Major quake hits Pakistan

A massive earthquake is feared to have killed more than 1 000 people in Pakistan on Saturday, chief military spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan told Agence France Presse (AFP).

“The death toll could be more than 1 000. There could be massive casualties but we do not have exact numbers,” Sultan said from the capital Islamabad.

Senior government officials reported “massive devastation” and warned the eventual casualty toll from the quake, measuring 7,6 on the Richter scale, could be “very high”. At least four aftershocks were felt in Islamabad.

A massive relief effort swung into action in the worst hit areas, which are believed to be in remote mountain villages north of the capital and in Pakistan’s sector of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir.

“We have reports of dozens of people being killed in Kashmir, Mansehra and other parts of northern Pakistan,” a federal government official told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity.

“There are reports of buildings collapsing in several cities in central Pakistan.
We have no exact estimates but the casualties could be very high,” the official added.

“It is massive devastation, we are still assessing damage and casualties,” said another senior government official.

“Deaths have been reported from several towns and villages in Mansehra, from Rawlakot, Bagh and Muzaffarabad districts in Kashmir, and some cities in central Pakistan,” the official said.

“The entire relief network of the government has been activated in the affected areas,” he added.

In Islamabad, the posh Margalla Towers residential building collapsed in a pile of shattered concrete, causing an unknown number of casualties, witnesses and officials said.

A number of bloodstained people could be seen trapped beneath huge stone slabs at the scene while desperate cries for help could be heard, an AFP photographer reported.

Military and civilian rescuers were clawing through the rubble while Interior minister Aftab Sherpao visited the scene and comforted terrified onlookers.

One child was killed when a school fell down in the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi, said Information Minister Sheikh Rashid.

“A school collapsed in Rawalpindi. One child was killed and six were injured,” he said. No more details were immediately available.

There were also reports of houses and structures collapsing in other northern cities and towns, although details were unclear as phone lines and roads were cut.

The military said an entire village in the Pakistani Kashmir district of Bagh was “wiped out”.

“We have reports that an entire village has been wiped out in Bagh district in Kashmir,” chief military spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan said. “In Kashmir and the northern areas we are receiving reports of severe damage.”

“The damage is widespread and we have activated troops and relief work is under way. Helicopters with medical teams have been sent from Rawalpindi and Islamabad.”

Police said “hundreds” of people were trapped after a landslide in the northern Kaghan Valley area, a popular tourist haunt, although the report could not be confirmed.

The worst affected villages were Balakot and Gari Habibullah in Mansehra district.

“We need urgent help. Rescue teams need to be sent immediately to Balakot.

Hundreds of people are buried in their homes. Highways are closed,” the policeman said.

The quake hit Pakistan early on Saturday, causing widespread damage, officials and witnesses said.

“The earthquake measured 7,6 on the Richter scale and its epicentre lay 100km north of Islamabad,” said meteorological department official Mohammad Iqbal.

The first tremor rumbled through the country at around 8,55 (4.55am GMT), followed by another after a few minutes.

Many aged people said it was the worst jolt they had experienced in their life. - AFP

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