Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Strong quake hits Pakistan, at least 135 killed

A strong earthquake struck villages in southwestern Pakistan before dawn Wednesday, killing at least 100 people, injuring scores more and destroying hundreds of homes, officials said.

The death toll was expected to rise as reports arrived from remote areas of Baluchistan province, an impoverished area bordering Afghanistan.

"It will be much more," Sohail ur Rahman, a top civilian official in one of the affected districts, told Dawn News television.

Zamaruk Khan, the minister for revenue and rehabilitation, said "more than 100" people have been found dead so far and the government is readying food, shelter and medical care for survivors.

A reporter for AP Television News saw dozens of bodies and injured in a hospital in Zaras, in the Ziarat district. A doctor there, Mohammed Irfan, said the hospital was unable to cope with the injured it was receiving.

The quake struck two hours before dawn and had a preliminary magnitude of 6.4, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. It was a shallow 10 miles below the surface and was centered about 400 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad.

The worst-hit area appeared to be Ziarat, where hundreds of mostly mud and timber houses were destroyed in five villages, said the mayor, Dilawar Kakar. Some were buried in landslides triggered by the quake, he said.

Kakar said 120 about people were injured.

"Rescue work is being carried out by the villagers themselves, but a larger operation is needed here," he said.

The army said it was rushing medical teams on helicopters to the affected villages.

Pakistan is prone to violent seismic upheavals. Wednesday's quake was the deadliest since a magnitude-7.6 quake devastated Kashmir and northern Pakistan in October 2005, killing about 80,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

Baluchistan is home to a long-running separatist movement, but is not considered a major battle ground in the fight against Taliban insurgents that plague other border regions.

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