x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Iran quake flattens thousands of Pakistani homes, kills 41

The 7.8-magnitude quake, Iran's most powerful in five decades, damaged an estimated 2,000 mud-built homes of Mashkail, a town in the poor Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

A Pakistani earthquake survivor carries a goat among the rubble of collapsed mud houses in the Mashkail area of the southwestern Baluchistan province.
A Pakistani earthquake survivor carries a goat among the rubble of collapsed mud houses in the Mashkail area of the southwestern Baluchistan province.

MASHKAIL // Thousands of Pakistanis have been affected by a huge earthquake in Iran that damaged hundreds of homes and killed at least 41 people, sparking a military rescue effort in the remote region.

The United States also offered aid after the 7.8-magnitude quake, Iran's most powerful in five decades, damaged an estimated 2,000 mud-built homes of Mashkail, a town in the poor Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Tuesday's earthquake was felt across the region, including in the UAE, and though the epicentre lay in south-east Iran, all but one of the deaths reported so far have been across the border in Pakistan.

Efforts to help the survivors have been hampered by Mashkail's remote location - communities are scattered, there are no paved roads, no electricity and limited mobile phone coverage, and no proper medical facilities.

Only three tents were visible in the town and frightened families prepared to spend a second night out in the open, sheltering under trees, too scared to return to their homes for fear of aftershocks.

A 5.7-magnitude tremor early yesterday frayed nerves even further. Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority said 105 injured people had been treated.

Esa Tahir, a local coordinator for the charity Islamic Relief said that after surveying two local councils in Mashkail, 5,000 people have been affected and around 2,000 mud homes have been damaged or destroyed, along with 150 shops.

At least five government buildings, including administrative and revenue offices, a school and a hospital, were also damaged.

Eight injured people, including four young children from the same family, were waiting for a helicopter to fly them to Quetta, the provincial capital.

A helicopter came but could not land due to a dust storm, a military officer said, adding that they will be evacuated today.

Some 15-20 people made the boneshaking, 45-minute journey to the Iranian border to reach a hospital and see a doctor, according to officials with Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Constabulary.

While some survivors offered prayers for the dead, others dug through rubble with spades and even knives to try to recover their belongings.

"We often feel tremors here, but this was the worst I've ever seen in my life. I thought a bulldozer was passing by close to my house," Abdul Ghaffour, who is about 50, said.

"Thank God my family and I are safe."

Major General Obaidullah Khattak of the Frontier Corps, another Pakistani paramilitary force, said 16 badly injured people had been taken by helicopter to Quetta for treatment and nine doctors were on the scene.

The area's scattered population made determining the death toll difficult, but Frontier Corps Major Attiq Minhas said at Dalbandin airport, around 250km from Mashkail, that at least 40 people had died.

On the Iranian side of the border, one woman was reported killed by falling rocks and the Red Crescent rushed 400 tents to shelter some 1,700 people who lost their homes in the quake.

Baluchistan, an inaccessible province bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is plagued by Islamist militancy, attacks on the Shiite minority and a separatist Baluch insurgency.

The quake struck in the afternoon with its epicentre around 80km east of the city of Khash, in the Iranian province of Sistan Baluchistan. The tremor was felt in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, causing some buildings to be evacuated.

It came a week after another struck near Iran's Bushehr city, killing at least 30 people. The UN's atomic agency said there was no damage then or Tuesday to Iran's nuclear power plant at Bushehr.