Rescue operation kicks off as Pakistan quake death toll rises above 220

ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani government and army has kicked off a rescue and relief operation in the areas where an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter Scale played havoc, reportedly killing over 220 people and injuring 1,200 others on Monday, officials said.

Pervez Rasheed, the information minister of the country, said that the rescue operation in the affected areas has started and the government is developing a plan of action to help out the victims.

The information minister did not give any casualty figure, but said that the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province was the worst hit in the earthquake.

He said that the death toll is feared to rise as the remote areas could not be accessed yet due to the disruption of the road traffic because of the land sliding and suspension of the telecommunication services.

He said that the country’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is visiting London, has shortened his trip and will be back to the country tomorrow to monitor the rescue and relief operation.

On the directions of the prime minister, a crisis cell has been formed to coordinate with all federal, civil, military and provincial agencies for damage assessment and rescue and relief efforts, he said.

The National Disaster Management Authority said that they are recording the losses incurred as the result of the quake and have dispatched a total of 2,000 tents to the affected areas.

In a tweet, Major General Asim Bajwa, the Director General of Pakistani army’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said that the military’s medical teams have reached the destruction sites for the operation.

He said that ration and tents are also being provided to the people on the directives of the army chief Raheel Sharif.

Bajwa said that all resources are being used by the army to go to the remotest areas to ensure relief of every affected family, individual and extend maximum help to the victims of the natural disaster.

Local media reports said that at least 220 people were killed in the country including KPK, the east Punjab Province, north Gilgit-Baltistan area, northeast Kashmir area and northwest tribal areas.

A total of 181 people were killed in KPK and tribal areas, ten people including two school kids in Punjab, 12 in Gilgit-Baltistan while seven were killed in Kashmir area, said the report.

The quake also jolted the country’s capital Islamabad and its sister city Rawalpindi where 17 people were injured and walls of some of the houses of collapsed.

The injured people were shifted to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences where a state of emergency has been imposed.

Pervez Khattak, the Chief Minister of the KPK, said that according to reports coming from different parts of the province, the circumstances are appearing to be grim, but the situation with regard to magnitude of the damage done by the quake would become clear till Tuesday.

Xinhua’s reporter from Peshawar said that the injured people at the hospitals in Peshawar were brought from the outskirts of the city and most of them got fractures in their limbs.

Xinhua’s reporter doing on-the-spot coverage in Peshawar said that some the injured people narrated to him that they were walking their way home from office when a building collapsed and their bricks hit them.

“I saw the building collapsing, but before I could get away from it the bricks hit me,” one of the injured man said.

The media reports said that thousands of houses have collapsed in KPK, forcing people to stay under open skies where mercury drops down to five in some of the areas on chilly October nights.

Landslides were reported in the northern part of the country and cracks appeared in the glacier in Hunza area.

A glacier also collapsed at the Nanga Purbat, the ninth highest peak in the world located at the north of Pakistan, but no casualty was reported.

Karakoram Highway, the major road in northern areas, was also blocked from five different places due to landslide, said the ISPR, adding that the Frontier Work Organization is working in the area to clear the roads.

Many tourists including foreigners got stuck in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir areas due to the blockage of the roads by land sliding.

Telecommunication services were suspended in many areas of the country as the strong tremors levelled several mobile towers to ground.

Sports and education activities were halted in many parts of the country following the quake.

The local met office said that the quake hit the country at about 2:09 p.m. (local time) and its epicenter was determined in Mount Hindukush, located along Pakistan-Afghanistan border, with a focal depth of 193 km.

The quake which lasted for about one minute and 10 seconds created panic among the people who rushed out of their houses.

Sohaib, 23, a student from Islamabad told Xinhua that he was attending a class on third floor when the strong tremors were felt and the teachers and all the students rushed their way downstairs which created huge panic.

He said that some of the students also got injured due to the stampede at the stairs of the university.

Talking to media at a hospital in Islamabad, Ali, 18, said that he was sitting on the second floor of the house when he felt the tremors.

“I jumped from the balcony in panic and broke my arm and leg,” he said.

About 40 minutes after the quake, a series of aftershocks ranging from 2.5 to 5.3 magnitudes started hitting the country.

The met office said that a total of 14 aftershocks were felt in the same area, adding that more aftershocks of moderate level are feared to hit the country over the next 24 hours. PNA/Xinhua/Misbah Saba Malik