QUETTA, Pakistan – A powerful earthquake collapsed at least one coal mine and dozens of mud houses in southwest Pakistan early Thursday, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 200, said a responsible.
The death toll is expected to rise further as teams search the remote mountainous region, said Suhail Anwar Shaheen, the local deputy commissioner.
At least four of the dead were killed when the coal mine they were working in collapsed, Shaheen said, citing local coal miners. As many as 100 houses also collapsed, burying sleeping residents inside.
The epicenter of the 5.9 magnitude quake was about 9 miles northeast of Harnai in Balochistan province, according to the US Geological Survey. The original measurement of the strength of the earthquake was 5.7 magnitude. It hit about 5.5 miles below the Earth’s surface; shallower earthquakes tend to cause more damage.
The area, about 100 km from Quetta, the provincial capital, is dotted with coal mines, raising concerns in Shaheen that the death toll could rise. It struck early in the morning when dozens of miners were already at work, he said.
The Pakistani army was deployed to the area of the earthquake to airlift dozens of wounded from the mountain peaks. At least nine seriously injured people were taken to Quetta Provincial Hospital. Search and rescue teams have arrived in the mountains, according to an army statement.
Concern is growing about dozens of coal miners who could be trapped. The houses lay in piles of mud and straw. Residents of small mountain villages have been spotted wandering stunned among the rubble.
“Women, children, everyone was running here and there,” said resident Ghulam Khan. “We were scared and didn’t know what to do.”
Ambulances soon arrived to transport the injured to Harnai hospital.
Doctors treated patients outside the hospital as 4.6 magnitude aftershocks continued into the morning. Children with bloody bandages were on stretchers outside the hospital as ambulances brought in more injured.
“So far, we have treated over 200 injured,” said Manzoor Ahmed, medical director of Harnai District Hospital. The small rural facility was imposed to the limit, he said. Up to 15 bodies were brought there.
Most of the region’s population lives in terracotta houses in the sun, many of which have collapsed. Rescue efforts were underway, but Shaheen said it would take hours to reach most of the hardest hit areas.
Witnesses in the area said residents were wrapped in blankets against the cold, sitting by the side of the road waiting for aftershocks to calm down and help to arrive.
The region is remote and the autumn night temperatures are already cool.
Southwestern Balochistan, Pakistan is in a seismically active region, according to the provincial disaster management authority. The worst earthquake in 1935 destroyed the provincial capital of Balochistan and killed more than 35,000 people. Since then, dozens of earthquakes have rocked the province, the least populated in Pakistan, with just 12 million people.
Pakistan is a nation of 220 million people, 60% of whom live in the eastern province of Punjab.