10/29/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Balochistan: violent earthquake overnight, at least 160 dead

by Qaiser Felix
An earthquake of magnitude 6.4 struck the southwestern province in Pakistan, destroying hundreds of homes in cities and villages in the area. Experts predict more aftershocks, while aid teams are looking for survivors. The Catholic Church of Quetta organizes a fund drive for the victims.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The initial death toll is 160 in the magnitude 6.4 earthquake that struck the province of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan.

The epicenter is an area 60 kilometers northeast of Quetta, 10 kilometers below the surface. The first violent quake was recorded by scientists of the U.S geological survey at 4:33 local time; experts warn that over the next 48 hours, there could be further aftershocks.

The deaths include a number of women and children, buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings; aid teams, composed of soldiers and local public security officers, report that dozens of people are still trapped under the debris, and the number of deaths could rise over the next few hours. Most of the damage was seen in the district of Ziarat, but other cities and villages have been seriously damaged: these include Pishin, Qila Abdullah, Chaman, Loralai, Sibbi, and Mastung. "Hundreds of mud houses have collapsed," says Ziarat district chief Dilawar Khan." We are using whatever resources we have to help the people and have asked for help from the provincial government." He also says that "there is a large number of injured people but we don't have an exact figure."

Speaking to AsiaNews by telephone from his office in Quetta, Ambrose John Francis - a former member of the provincial assembly of Balochistan - says that "we were sleeping when we felt the first jolt, but it was a minor one. But the second one was massive, and a picture from the wall fell on me." The Catholic ex-parliamentarian says "we were all terrified and ran out of our houses."

Asghar Ghauri, also from Quetta, says that the second shock was so strong that "it shook our beds severely. We immediately started praying and calling other relatives. Thank God in Quetta we are all safe, but we heard that in many other areas people lost their lives."

The government has declared a state of emergency, and has alerted all the hospitals in the area, which have already admitted dozens of injured people, some of whom are in critical condition. Fr. Maqsood Nazir, youth director for the Quetta prefecture, tells AsiaNews that this evening the rosary will be recited and a Mass will be celebrated for the earthquake victims. “We will also start our donation campaign for the quake victims after Mass, and within the next couple of days, after getting complete information on the damage, we will go in the affected areas for distribution.”

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