Rescuers hunt for survivors as death toll of Afghan-Pakistan quake nears 280

Rescue workers carry a girl  in Jalalabad, after she was injured in a powerful earthquake that struck a remote area of northeastern Afghanistan on Monday,
Rescue workers carry a girl in Jalalabad, after she was injured in a powerful earthquake that struck a remote area of northeastern Afghanistan on Monday,PHOTO: REUTERS
An Afghan man digging through the rubble of a damaged building after a powerful earthquake in Raman Kheel village in Panjshir valley on Oct 26, 2015.
An Afghan man digging through the rubble of a damaged building after a powerful earthquake in Raman Kheel village in Panjshir valley on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: AFP
Afghan men removing debris after a powerful earthquake hit Kabul on Oct 26, 2015.
Afghan men removing debris after a powerful earthquake hit Kabul on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: AFP
 People carrying victims who were injured in an earthquake to a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Oct 26, 2015.
People carrying victims who were injured in an earthquake to a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: EPA
A Pakistani boy standing on the rubble of houses after an earthquake in Kohat on Oct 26, 2015.
A Pakistani boy standing on the rubble of houses after an earthquake in Kohat on Oct 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Rescuers were on Tuesday (Oct 27) picking their way through rugged terrain and pockets of Taleban insurgency in the search for survivors after a massive quake hit Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing more than 300 people.

The toll was expected to rise as search teams reach remote areas that were cut off by Monday’s powerful 7.5 magnitude quake, which triggered landslides and stampedes as it toppled buildings and severed communication lines.

A police official in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar told AFP they had not been able to get in touch with authorities in the district of Kohistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to see how its population of nearly half a million people had fared.

“There is no way to communicate with the officials in Kohistan, the communication system has been disrupted and roads blocked so we cannot say anything about the damage there,” the official told AFP.

In other remote areas residents – including children and the elderly – were helping with relief work, many of them digging through rubble for survivors.

The bulk of the casualties were recorded in Pakistan, where 228 people were killed, including 184 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and more than 1,600 injured, disaster management authorities said.

Pakistan army helicopters began evacuating victims Tuesday to Peshawar and Rawalpindi.

 

The military has also sent medical teams, tents and rations to affected areas, while India – whose relationship with Islamabad is often prickly – said it stood ready to help.

For many, Monday’s quake brought back traumatic memories of a 7.6 magnitude quake that struck in Oct 2005, killing more than 75,000 people.

Muzaffarabad resident Shehnaz Rasheed, 34, whose daughter was killed in the 2005 disaster, said that as the quake struck he feared “doomsday was being repeated”.

“I ran towards my children’s school leaving everything behind – I did not even close the doors of my house and did not care for anything on the road,” he told AFP, explaining he was frantic to reach his two sons so he could “die together with them if we have to die”.

Afghan officials said at least 76 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country’s 34 provinces, and some 4,000 homes reported damaged.

The government has implored aid agencies for assistance.

But large swathes of Badakhshan, the remote province where the epicentre is located, and other areas are effectively controlled by the Taleban, posing a huge challenge to any official aid efforts.

The militants on Tuesday urged charity organisations not to hold back in delivering aid, and vowed its fighters would provide “complete help” in the affected areas.

- ‘They could not even talk’ - 

In one of the most horrifying incidents to emerge so far, a dozen Afghan schoolgirls were trampled to death as they rushed to escape their classrooms in remote northern Takhar when the quake struck.

Bystanders rushed the dazed and terrified survivors to hospital, many lying limp in the arms of their rescuers, as doctors tried reviving some of them by pumping their chests.

“When the relatives of the dead students came to collect their bodies, they were so distressed that they could not even talk to authorities to record their names,” said Hafizullah Safai, head of the Takhar health department.

The quake was centred near Jurm in northeast Afghanistan, 250km from the capital Kabul and at a depth of 213.5km, the US Geological Survey said.

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

In Nepal twin quakes in April killed more than 8,900 people, triggered landslides and destroyed half a million homes.

The Oct 2005 quake, whose epicentre was several hundred kilometres away from Monday’s quake and which was much shallower, also displaced some 3.5 million people.