x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

At least 22 dead as powerful new earthquake hits Pakistan

Officials fear the toll in Saturday’s quake in Awaran, the poorest district in the south-west province of Baluchistan, will rise further.

A boy roots the rubble of his home, in Awaran district of Pakistan's Baluchistan, where a second earthquake of 6.8 magnitude struck on Saturday after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake on September 24 in which hundreds of people were killed. Shahzaib Akber / EPA
A boy roots the rubble of his home, in Awaran district of Pakistan's Baluchistan, where a second earthquake of 6.8 magnitude struck on Saturday after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake on September 24 in which hundreds of people were killed. Shahzaib Akber / EPA

AWARAN, Pakistan // A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit south-west Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least 22 people in a region already devastated by a tremor which left more than 300 people dead this week.

Officials fear the toll in Saturday’s quake in Awaran, the poorest district in the south-west province of Baluchistan, could still rise further.

The quake struck the remote district at a depth of 14 kilometres, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Although USGS said it was an aftershock of the Tuesday 7.7-magnitude quake, an official at the National Seismic Centre of Pakistan classified it as a new earthquake.

“It was not an aftershock, it was an independent earthquake,” Zahid Rafi, the centre’s director, said.

Awaran was shattered by the 7.7-magnitude quake on Tuesday which left 359 dead and more than 100,000 people homeless.

The UAE said on Saturday that it was sending emergency aid to Pakistan.

Relief efforts have at times been thwarted by insurgent attacks on rescue convoys, with provincial officials admitting that teams have been unable to reach thousands of survivors in the worst-hit areas.

“This new earthquake destroyed all that remains of the first quake, two villages destroyed completely,” said Abdul Malik, provincial chief minister of Baluchistan.

Pakistan’s chief meteorologist Arif Mehmood said the magnitude of Saturday’s quake measured 7.2.

Officials said villagers were digging through newly created debris and that dozens of wounded people have been taken to a makeshift hospital.

“The condition of some the injured was critical,” Dr Asif Anwar said.

Abdul Rasheed Baloch, the deputy commissioner of Awaran, said the second quake destroyed hundreds of mud houses in the Mashkey area, adding that “a lot of people have been trapped under the rubble”.

“The telephone system has been damaged and we are not able to talk to someone and find out the exact information about the losses ... But we have reports of severe losses in that area,” he said.

Hundreds of patients being treated in the aftermath of the previous quake fled a hospital in panic as the new tremor hit.

Even before the latest quake struck, local officials said some 30,000 survivors were still waiting for aid.

As well as being remote, the area is a stronghold of Baluch separatist rebels waging a decade-long insurgency.

Since the Tuesday quake, insurgents have launched several attacks on rescue teams and issued threats.

On Thursday, a helicopter carrying the chief of the disaster agency came under rocket fire by insurgents while flying in Awaran district. No one was hurt and no damage was done.

On Friday, insurgents also opened fire on another helicopter and, in two separate incidents, fired on rescue convoys, officials said, adding that no one was hurt in the attacks.

The situation has forced officials to abandon efforts to reach survivors directly, saying instead they will work through village committees and private NGOs.

* Agence France-Presse