Heavy casualties feared as 7.8-magnitude Pakistan quake flattens houses

Pakistani pedestrians and office workers gather on a street after an earthquake in Karachi on Tuesday, Sept 24, 2013. Heavy casualties were feared on Tuesday after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit south-western Pakistan, demolishing houses and sen
Pakistani pedestrians and office workers gather on a street after an earthquake in Karachi on Tuesday, Sept 24, 2013. Heavy casualties were feared on Tuesday after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit south-western Pakistan, demolishing houses and sending people running into the streets in panic. -- PHOTO: AFP

QUETTA, Pakistan (AFP/AP) - Heavy casualties were feared on Tuesday after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit south-western Pakistan, demolishing houses and sending people running into the streets in panic.

The quake struck at 4.29pm local time, around 100km south-west of the city of Khuzdar in Baluchistan province, at a depth of 15km.

The province in south-west Pakistan is the country's largest but also the least populated.

The area of the epicentre is sparsely populated, but the United States Geological Survey issued a red alert for the quake, warning that heavy casualties were likely, based on past data.

At least two people were killed and five others were injured when more than two dozen houses collapsed in villages of Awaran district where the quake struck, said the district's deputy commissioner Abdur Rasheed. He said rescue teams have been dispatched to the area.

Officials said the tremors had demolished dozens of mud houses in Awaran district, 350km south-west of provincial capital Quetta.

Mr Jan Muhammad Baledi, a spokesman for the Baluchistan government, said an emergency had been declared in Awaran.

"We have received reports that many homes in Awaran district have been collapsed. We fear many deaths of people," he said on ARY news channel.

"There are not many doctors in the area but we are trying to provide maximum facilities in the affected areas."

Television footage showed collapsed houses, caved in roofs and people sitting in the open air outside their homes, the rubble of mud and bricks scattered around them.

A senior Pakistani meteorologist Muhammad Riaz told Dunya TV station it was a "major" earthquake and "heavy destruction" was likely.

Tremors were felt as far away as New Delhi, while office workers in the city of Ahmedabad near the border with Pakistan ran out of buildings and into the street.

Mr Mumtaz Baluch, senior local administration official in Awaran district, told AFP: "There are reports of houses being collapsed in the district due to the earthquake."

"We also have initial information about injuries to people as a result of the collapse of houses but there are no reports of any deaths."

"We have dispatched our teams to the affected area to ascertain the losses."

Mr Abdul Qudoos Bizinjo, deputy speaker of the Baluchistan Assembly, told Dunya TV there were reports of "heavy losses" in Awaran. Damage to the mobile network was hampering communication in the area, he said.

People working in offices in Karachi rushed out of their building and sat on the footpaths along the roads or stood away from the buildings.

"My work table jerked a bit and again and I impulsively rushed outside," Ms Noor Jabeen, a 28-year woman working for an insurance company said while breathing heavily.

"It was not so intense but it was terrible," said Mr Owais Khan, who works for a provincial government office.

"Whenever I feel jolts it reminds me of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir," said Mr Amjad Ali, 45, an IT official standing on the road.

"I was working on my computer in the office. Suddenly I felt tremors. My table and computer started shaking. I thought I am feeling dizziness but soon realized they were tremors," said Karachi resident Mohammad Taimur.

TV footage showed residents in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, coming out of their homes and offices in a panic. One man told Pakistan's Dunya television channel that he was sitting in his office when the building started shaking.

Other residents said people started reciting verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran, when the quake began.

In April, a 7.8-magnitude quake centred in south-east Iran, close to the border with Baluchistan, killed 41 people and affected more than 12,000 on the Pakistan side of the border.

A 7.6-magnitude quake in 2005, centred in Kashmir, killed at least 73,000 people and left several million homeless, in one of the worst natural disasters to hit Pakistan.