Earthquake death toll soars to 37 as rescue operations continue

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MIRPUR: The death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake in Azad Kashmir mounted to 37 as survey teams, constituted by the local administration, continued to review affected areas, Mirpur Divisional Commissioner Chaudhry Muhammad Tayyab said on Wednesday.

All of the victims belonged to the Mirpur district, which suffered the most from the devastating quake.

Earlier, Mirpur District Deputy Commissioner Qaiser Aurangzeb had said that 26 people had died while more than 500 people were being treated for injuries.

However, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had put the death toll at 25, out of which 11 were killed in Mirpur and Afzalpur each. Islamgarh, Mangla and Jehlum suffered one casualty each, an update released by the authority said.

The number of wounded, according to the authority, is 459.

The 5.6 magnitude earthquake, which hit 22 kilometres (14 miles) north of the city of Jehlum along the boundary separating the agricultural heartland of Punjab and Kashmir, was felt by residents of the federal capital and several other cities and as far as Delhi. But most of its brunt was borne by northern areas, especially Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s (AJK) Mirpur city.

The tremors lasted for 8-10 seconds and were felt strongly.

A bridge connecting Bhimber and Mirpur as well as Munda bridge, located in the former, were also damaged along with Jatlan road.

The NDMA further said that electricity supply to Kotli and Mirpur districts has been restored. Detailing the relief efforts being carried out by the authority, NDMA revealed that more than 200 tents, 800 blankets and 200 kitchen sets, tarpaulins and first aid kits each have been dispatched to affected areas.

Around 20 ambulances, six rescue vehicles and 110 rescuers have been dispatched by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority while the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) sent nine doctors, three paramedics and ambulances as well as 200 basic life-saving medicines and surgical kits.

Four doctors and five paramedics are on standby in Polyclinic, as are 100 beds in the National Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, Capital Development Authority (CDA) Hospital and Federal General (FG) Hospital.

AFTERMATH:

The shallow earthquake, that hit around 04:30 pm and the epicentre of which was near Mirpur, tore roads apart and felled buildings.

On Wednesday, schools were shuttered near Mirpur where poor areas were reduced to rubble and the towering brick fences surrounding expensive homes had crumbled. The city is known for its palatial houses and has strong ties to Britain with the majority of its 450,000 residents carrying both British and Pakistani passports.

Residents combed through the wreckage and assessed the damage inflicted on their homes, with large cracks defacing walls in the houses that still stood. Many people from the area slept outdoors overnight.

“I lost my house. I lost everything,” said Abdullah Khan, whose three-bedroom home in Jatlan village on the outskirts of Mirpur was flattened by the quake.

“I was going to see a friend when the entire area shook with a bang and a huge wall crumbled over me. When I regained my senses I found myself here in this bed,” Ali Badshah, a fifth-grade student, told AFP from a hospital in Mirpur where he was being treated for a broken leg.

Near Mirpur, roads were completely destroyed and vehicles overturned by the tremors while bridges, mobile phone towers, and electricity poles were also badly damaged in the melee.

“The situation is slowly returning to normal, the level of panic is now less among the people, although an aftershock was felt at night,” said Sardar Gulfaraz Khan, a police deputy inspector general. Most of the damage happened in villages where old houses collapsed, Khan said.

Relief efforts were hampered due to rain, that continued to inundate the area. Overnight showers turned already damaged roads into muddy thoroughfares where livestock roamed freely.

But rescue operations continued through the night in the area as local hospitals swelled with many patients suffering from multiple fractures. Troops and other emergency responders carried out rescue work, with engineers starting repairs on a key roadway that was severely damaged, the army’s media wing said.

NDMA Chief Lt General Muhammad Afzal said the road would reopen by Thursday evening.

The quake sent people in Lahore and Islamabad running into the streets, while tremors were also felt as far as New Delhi.

Pakistan straddles a part of the boundary where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, making the country susceptible to earthquakes.

The country was also hit by a 7.6-magnitude quake on October 8, 2005, that killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless, mainly in AJK.