Early Thursday morning, a massive earthquake collapsed at least one coal mine and dozens of adobe houses in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 23 people, and the death toll continues to rise. At least 200 more people were injured, one official said.
According to Suhail Anwar Shahin, the local deputy commissioner, the death toll is expected to rise further as teams search the remote mountainous area.
At least four people were killed when the coal mine they were working in collapsed, Shahin said, citing miners in the area. About 100 houses also collapsed, burying sleeping residents.
In one case, a mother died along with her two young sons when their house collapsed, said Wali Muhammad, a relative. Nearby, under the rubble of a house, the body of an 8-year-old girl was found.
The epicenter of the 5.9 quake was located about 15 kilometers (9 miles) northeast of Harnai in Baluchistan province, according to the US Geological Survey. The initial value of the earthquake strength was 5.7 points. It happened at a depth of about 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) below the surface of the Earth; smaller earthquakes usually cause more damage.
There are coal mines in the area about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Quetta, the provincial capital, so Shaheen fears that the death toll could rise. The strike came early in the morning when dozens of miners were already at work, he said.
The Pakistani military was sent to the area of the earthquake to airlift dozens of wounded from the mountain peaks. At least nine seriously injured people were taken to a provincial hospital in Quetta. Search and rescue teams have arrived in the mountains, the army said in a statement.
There has been growing concern about dozens of miners who may be trapped. Houses lay in heaps of mud and straw. The inhabitants of small mountain villages were seen stunned, wandering among the rubble.
“Women, children, everyone ran back and forth,” said a resident of Gulam Khan. “We were scared and didn’t know what to do.”
Ambulances soon arrived to take the injured to a hospital in Harnai.
Doctors treated patients outside the hospital, as the 4.6 magnitude aftershocks continued into the morning. Children with bloody bandages lay on stretchers outside the hospital while ambulances brought in new wounded.
“So far, we have treated more than 200 victims,” said Manzur Ahmed, chief physician of the Harnai district hospital. According to him, a small rural institution was loaded to the limit. Up to 15 bodies were delivered there.
By early Thursday afternoon, the funeral took place in small villages located on the side of the mountain.
Most of the population in the area lives in sun-baked adobe houses, many of which have collapsed. Rescue efforts are underway, but Shahin said it would take hours to reach many of the hardest hit areas.
According to eyewitnesses, residents of the area are wrapped in blankets from the cold and sit on the side of the road, waiting for the tremors to subside and help arrive.
The area is remote, and in the fall, nighttime temperatures have turned cool.
Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan is in a seismically active region, according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority. The worst earthquake in 1935 destroyed the provincial capital of Baluchistan 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 country of 220 million people, 60 percent of whom live in the eastern province of Punjab.