Rescuers race to reach Pakistan-Afghanistan quake zones

REF: Rescuers have rushed to deliver relief aid to victims of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that hit northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing more than 300 people over a wide swath of mostly mountainous terrain.

 

Thousands spent the night outdoors in near-freezing temperatures reluctant to go back inside for fear of aftershocks, Pakistani media reported on Tuesday.

“Rescue work is ongoing, and tents, blankets and sleeping mats are being provided,” Latif ur Rehman, a Pakistani disaster management official, told Reuters from the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Pakistan’s military and civilian authorities dispatched several helicopters to affected areas to assess damage and run rescue operations, the National Disaster Management Authority said.

The total death toll stood at 335 with at least 253 people killed in Pakistan and at least 82 more in Afghanistan, according to official reports from the two countries. More than 2,000 people have been injured.

The death toll could climb in coming days because communications were down in much of the rugged Hindu Kush mountain range where the quake was centred.

Landslides in mountainous northern Pakistan over the weekend caused by heavy rain and snow had already left thousands of tourists stranded.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan, cut short his visit to the United Kingdom to fly home to deal with the emergency.

“We will try our best to deal with this disaster using our own resources,” he said.

Hundreds of houses destroyed

The earthquake struck almost exactly six months after Nepal suffered its worst quake on record on April 25.

In Afghanistan, where rescue and relief work is likely to be complicated by security threats created by an escalating Taliban insurgency, more than 80 people were reported dead in several provinces including Badakhshan, where hundreds were killed in mudslides last year.

Hundreds of houses were destroyed, creating additional hardship with winter temperatures setting in.

Hikmat Fasi, a resident of Parwan Province in northern Afghanistan, said the quake caused a lot of damage in the area.

“We are safe but I saw a lot of buildings collapse,” Hikmat Fasi said. “It [earthquake] caused severe damage to our area. We are just praying.”

Strong tremors were also felt in the Indian and Pakistani capitals, New Delhi and Islamabad, residents said, as authorities in the two neighbouring countries issued warnings for strong aftershocks.

US offers help

The initial magnitude 7.5 quake on Monday afternoon was followed by seven aftershocks, measuring as high as magnitude 4.8, according to the US Geological Survey. The latest aftershock came just before dawn on Tuesday.

The United States and Iran were among countries that offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which already depends heavily on foreign aid after decades of war that have wrecked its economy and infrastructure.

The quake was 213km deep and centred 254km northeast of Kabul.

Dr John Ebel, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College in the US, said the depth of the earthquake had limited its severity and meant damage was likely to be spread broadly rather than focused in one disaster zone.

But he said landslides on the unstable slopes of the mountainous region could pose a major problem.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US Agency for International Development was ready to provide emergency shelter and relief supply kits.

Source: Al Jazeera And Reuters

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