WAM, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani rescuers pulled 160 bodies from the rubble of hundreds of mud-walled homes flattened by a powerful earthquake in the southwestern province of Baluchistan on Wednesday, government officials said.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said a 6.4 magnitude quake hit 60 km (40 miles) northeast of the provincial capital, Quetta.
Pakistan’s Meteorological Department put the magnitude at 6.5 and said the quake, at the shallow depth of about 10 km (six miles), struck at 5.10 a.m. (2310 GMT on Tuesday).
Many people were believed to be buried under rubble and about 20 aftershocks rattled the nerves of survivors.
“The village has been flattened. You can’t see a house still standing. There’s destruction everywhere,” said Abdul Rahim Ziyawal, a rescue worker in Wam, one of the worst-hit villages where authorities were using excavators to dig mass graves.
Pakistan is no stranger to natural disasters. In October 2005, about 73,000 people were killed when a 7.6 magnitude quake hit northern mountains. Last year, the worst floods on record in Baluchistan killed hundreds.
The epicenter of Wednesday’s quake was in Ziarat district, a scenic valley and one of the main tourist spots in Baluchistan.
The chief administrator of Ziarat district, which has a population of about 50,000, said 160 bodies had been recovered.
The quake injured scores of people and triggered landslides that destroyed about 1,500 houses and blocked roads. Rescuers were still trying to reach some remote places in mountains above the Ziarat valley, where many people were believed to be buried.
A 6.2 magnitude aftershock struck at 5.32 p.m. (1132 GMT) but there were no immediate reports of more damage or casualties, the USGS said.
Another senior official in Ziarat, Sohail-ur-Rehman, said authorities were scrambling to help about 12,000 homeless people.
The army had sent helicopters and a medical team and paramilitary troops had joined the search for survivors, the military said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sent two teams to the area. “Aftershocks have continued which we think will force the population to stay outside, and the weather is cold,” said ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad.
Five people had been killed in neighboring Pishin district, to the north of Quetta, district government officials said.
In Wam, villager Mohammad Aleem said his two brothers and a sister-in-law had been killed and he was looking for other relatives.
“I don’t know who’s survived and who’s died. I’m still searching,” said Aleem as he clawed through rubble with his bare hands.
The head of a national disaster management team, Farooq Ahmed Khan, said about 300 rescue workers had reached Ziarat. Tents, blankets and clothing were being flown in. Khan said 296 people had been injured.
The Meteorological Department said two tremors had struck before dawn, with the second, bigger one coming about 35 minutes after the first.
“There were two jolts. The first was mild but I made my family get out and then the roof of my house caved in with the strong one,” said Khadija, a 50-year-old woman in Wam, still quivering with shock.
In 1935, about 30,000 people were killed and Quetta was largely destroyed by a severe earthquake.
Large parts of south Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate, known as the Indian plate, is pushing north into the Eurasian plate.
Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest province but its most thinly populated. It has the country’s biggest reserves of natural gas but there were no reports of damage to gas facilities.