Thousands still without shelter in earthquake-hit areas

AWARAN: Although the government, the army and some non-governmental organisations have been providing relief to people affected by two earthquakes in Awaran and Kech districts of Balochistan, thousands are still living without shelter and food.

The provincial government admitted that relief goods could not be transported to several areas because of security reasons and dilapidated condition of roads. Meanwhile, looting of relief was reported from Mashkay area.

Armed men took away three trucks and abandoned them after offloading supplies. Confirming the incident, officials said the government was making arrangements to provide security for smooth supply of relief to the affected areas.

Hundreds of thousands of people were rendered homeless after their houses were razed to the ground by the earthquakes which also destroyed wells and their other sources of water.

Citing an initial assessment, officials said 180,000 to 200,000 people had been affected by the quakes. About 35,000 houses collapsed or were badly damaged. Some villages in Awaran and Kech have been flattened.

RESCUE WORK REVIEWED: A meeting presided over by the chief secretary on Sunday reviewed rescue and relief activities in the quake-hit areas and decided to immediately provide 35,000 tents to the affected families. They will also be given ready-to-eat food and dry ration for one month.

“The Balochistan government has been making efforts and utilising all its available resources to provide shelter, drinking water, food and medicines to the affected families,” the chief secretary said. Besides, he added, the federal and provincial governments, the army and Frontier Corps and Edhi Foundation and some NGOs were also providing relief to the affected people.

He said there was no need for an international appeal because the government had adequate stock of tents, foodstuff, medicines and other items. But, he added, it was up to Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch to take a decision in this regard. The meeting was informed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was expected to visit the quake-stricken districts after his return from New York and announce a package for rehabilitation of the affected families. It was told that 10,000 tents announced by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and 5,000 by Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah had started reaching the affected districts.

The Balochistan government has shifted the offices of commissioner and regional police officer of Kalat division to Awaran to monitor rescue and relief operation and law and order and ensure smooth supply of relief.

Balochistan government’s spokesman Mir Jan Mohammad Buledi and Provincial Disaster Management Authority’s director general Hafiz Abdul Basit told reporters that so far 153 trucks loaded with relief goods had reached the affected areas. Twenty trucks are being dispatched daily. They said a group of quake-hit people stopped a truck in Tarteej area on Sunday and took away relief goods, but added that such incidents were not unusual since people were hungry and needed food.

They said Mashkay had been badly affected by the earthquakes. “Four transport helicopters and a C-130 plane are being used to drop relief goods in Nokjo, Jeebri and other areas of Mashkay sub-division.”

They said 28 trucks carrying relief items had reached Mashkay and another 26 had been dispatched to the affected areas.

“We have decided to divide the affected areas into six sectors for better coordination between the civil administration and the army, FC and other stakeholders for distribution of relief goods,” Mr Basit said.

He said 18 people were killed and over 50 injured in Saturday’s earthquake in Nokjo.

Mr Buledi said the provincial government was serious about the relief work and that’s why the chief minister himself had been in Awaran for three days. He said Dr Malik and Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo, accompanied by officials, had visited Labach and other areas and distributed relief goods among the affected people.

DSS adds: The victims of Saturday’s earthquake have been buried.

“All the 22 victims were buried on Sunday in Nokjo village of Awaran district, which was badly affected by the quake yesterday,” a senior local government official said.


Gwadar’s quake island unlikely to last

GWADAR: A small island created in the Arabian Sea by the huge earthquake that hit southwest Pakistan has fascinated locals but experts say it is unlikely to last long.

The 7.7-magnitude quake struck on Tuesday in Balochistan’s remote Awaran district, killing more than 260 people and affecting hundreds of thousands.

Off the coastline near the port of Gwadar, some 400 kilometres from the epicentre, locals were astonished to see a new piece of land surface from the waves.

“It is not a small thing, but a huge thing which has emerged from under the water,” Gwadar resident Muhammad Rustam told news agency. “It looked very, very strange to me and also a bit scary because suddenly a huge thing has emerged from the water.”

Mohammad Danish, a marine biologist from Pakistan’s National Institute of Oceanography, said a team of experts had visited the island and found methane gas rising.

“Our team found bubbles rising from the surface of the island which caught fire when a match was lit and we forbade our team to start any flame. It is methane gas,” Danish said on a local television news channel.

The island is about 60 to 70 feet (18 to 21 metres) high, up to 300 feet wide and up to 120 feet long, he said. It sits about 200 metres away from the coast.

Gary Gibson, a seismologist with Australia’s University of Melbourne, said the new island was likely to be a “mud volcano”, created by methane gas forcing material upwards during the violent shaking of the earthquake.

“It’s happened before in that area but it’s certainly an unusual event, very rare,” Gibson told AFP, adding that it was “very curious” to see such activity some 400 kilometres from the quake’s epicentre.

The so-called island is not a fixed structure but a body of mud that will be broken down by wave activity and dispersed over time, the scientist said.

A similar event happened in the same area in 1945 when an 8.1-magnitude earthquake at Makran triggered the formation of mud volcanoes off Gwadar.

Professor Shamim Ahmed Shaikh, chairman of the department of geology at Karachi University, said the island, which has not been named, would disperse within a couple of months.

He said it happens along the Makran coast because of the complex relationship between tectonic plates in the area. Pakistan sits close to the junction of three plates – the Indian, Arabian and Eurasian.

“About a year back an island of almost similar size had surfaced at a similar distance from the coast in the Makran region. This would disperse in a week to a couple of months,” Shaikh told DSS.

Gibson said the temporary island was very different from the permanent uplift seen during major “subduction zone” earthquakes, where plate collisions force the Earth’s crust suddenly and sometimes dramatically upwards.

For example, in the massive 9.5-magnitude earthquake in Chile in 1960 – known as the world’s largest ever – whole fishing villages were thrust “several metres” upwards and wharves suddenly located hundreds of metres inland, Gibson said.

Such uplift events are relatively common in the Pacific’s so-called “Ring of Fire”, a hotbed of seismic and volcanic activity at the junction of several tectonic plates.

A thundering 8.0-magnitude quake in the Solomon Islands in 2007 thrust Ranogga Island upwards by three metres, exposing submerged reefs once popular with divers and killing the vibrant corals, expanding the shoreline outwards by several metres in the process.

During the massive 9.2-magnitude earthquake off Sumatra which triggered a devastating tsunami across the Indian Ocean in 2004, several islands were pushed upwards while others subsided into the ocean.

The Aceh coast dropped permanently by one metre while Simeulue Island was lifted by as much as 1.5 metres, exposing the surrounding reef which became the island’s new fringe.

Massive earthquake hits Balochistan: death toll rises to 306

KHUZDAR: The death toll from a massive earthquake that jolted southwest Pakistan rose to 306 on Wednesday, with officials saying thousands have been left homeless in remote parts of Balochistan province.

The 7.7-magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon in the province, toppling thousands of mud-built homes as it spread havoc through Awaran and Kech districts and the southwestern parts of the country.

Pakistan’s military on Wednesday rushed to reach the scene of the earthquake to launch a relief operation in the affected areas. Officials said the toll was expected to rise as rescue teams reach more villages in the remote area.

Provincial home secretary Asad Gilani confirmed 306 people had been killed and more than 400 injured from the huge quake.

“The dead and injured both include women and children,” Gilani said. “Our first priority is to retrieve the bodies and shift the injured to hospitals,” he said.


The rubble of a house is seen after it collapsed following the quake in the town of Awaran, southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, September 25, 2013. — Photo by Reuters
The rubble of a house is seen after it collapsed following the quake in the town of Awaran, southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, September 25, 2013.


“A total of six districts, Awaran, Kech, Gwadar, Panjgur, Chaghi and Khuzdar, and a population of over 300,000 have been affected by the earthquake,” Jan Muhammad Buledi, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, said while adressing a press conference.

The provincial government spokesman said aid workers were facing difficulties in reaching out to survivors since the communication system was severely affected by the earthquake. He said teams were working to recover bodies, but the priority was to move the injured to hospitals as soon as possible, a difficult task in a desolate area with minimal infrastructure.

“We are seriously lacking medical facilities and there is no space to treat injured people in the local hospitals,” he said. “We are trying to shift seriously injured people to Karachi through helicopters and others to the neighbouring districts.”


Survivors of the earthquake walk on rubble of a mud house after it collapsed following the quake in the town of Awaran.—Photo by Reuters
Survivors of the earthquake walk on rubble of a mud house after it collapsed following the quake in the town of Awaran.


“There is nothing, patients are dying,” Rehmatullah Muhammad Hassani, an earthquake survivor told via phone from the District Headquarter Hospital in Awaran.

He said the patients were facing difficulties in getting basic first aid treatment in the hospital. “There are no doctors and paramedics,” Hassani said.

Hassani said that a large number of mud-walled houses had collapsed as result of the powerful earthquake tremors. “We fear there are people still trapped under the rubble,” he said. The Awaran resident added that authorities had yet to launch an effective rescue operation to retrieve the people stuck from under the rubble.

Nazar Muhammad, a paramedic, said 70 injured had been brought to district hospital Awaran for medical treatment. He said: “We have no surgery equipment and we are only providing basic first aid to the survivors.”

The army has sent 100 personnel as medical staff and 1,000 troops to the area to help with rescue efforts and has established a medical centre in Tarteej, one of the worst-affected villages.

The scale of the affected territory is daunting. Awaran’s population is scattered over an area of more than 21,000 square kilometres. More than 60,000 people live within 50 kilometres of the epicentre, according to the UN disaster agency, mostly in easily collapsible mud homes.

Television footage showed collapsed houses, caved-in roofs and people sitting in the open air outside their homes, the rubble of mud and bricks scattered around them.

Abdul Rasheed Baloch, a senior official in the district, said teams had worked through the night to try to retrieve bodies and survivors from the rubble. “Around 90 per cent of houses in the district have been destroyed. Almost all the mud houses have collapsed,” he said.

Some of the dead have already been laid to rest in their villages, he said.


A family of Pakistani earthquake survivorss sit with their belongings near their collapsed mud houses in the Mashkail area of southwest Baluchistan province. - Photo by AFP
A family of Pakistani earthquake survivorss sit with their belongings near their collapsed mud houses in the Mashkail area of southwest Baluchistan province.


The US Geological Survey issued a red alert on Tuesday, warning that heavy casualties were likely based on past data, and the provincial government declared an emergency in Awaran.

Tremors were felt on Tuesday as far away as New Delhi and Dubai in the Gulf, while people in the Indian city of Ahmedabad near the border with Pakistan ran out into the streets in panic.

Office workers in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi rushed out of their buildings in an experience reminiscent of the 2005 earthquake to that hit the country.

A 7.6 magnitude quake in 2005, centred in Kashmir, had killed at least 73,000 people and left several million homeless in one of the worst natural disasters to hit Pakistan.

Iran’s Red Crescent reported no damage from the latest quake over the border from Pakistan.

A survivor of an earthquake sits as he takes tea on the rubble of a mud house after it collapsed following the quake in the town of Awaran. - Reuters Photo