20 killed, hundreds injured as quake rattles southern Pakistan

People gathering outside a hospital following an earthquake in Harnai, in Pakistan's Balochistan province, on Oct 7, 2021.
People gathering outside a hospital following an earthquake in Harnai, in Pakistan's Balochistan province, on Oct 7, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS
People gathering outside a hospital following an earthquake in Harnai, in Pakistan's Balochistan province, on Oct 7, 2021.
People gathering outside a hospital following an earthquake in Harnai, in Pakistan's Balochistan province, on Oct 7, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

QUETTA, PAKISTAN (AFP, REUTERS) - Around 20 people were killed and more than 200 injured when a shallow earthquake hit southern Pakistan in the early hours of Thursday (Oct 7) as people slept, government officials said.

Many of the victims died when roofs and walls collapsed after the quake struck in the Balochistan province, with a power cut forcing health workers to treat the injured using flashlights.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 5.7 and struck at around 3am at a depth of around 20km. 

The earthquake was also felt in Balochistan's provincial capital Quetta. 

“I was sleeping when suddenly my entire house jolted,” Munir Shah, 40, a resident of Harnai district in Balochistan province, told Reuters by telephone.

“I took my children and wife outside. It was a terrifying situation as houses in Harnai were collapsing, my house was also damaged,” he added. “I found a large number of people under debris. Some of them might have died.”

The worst-affected area was the remote mountainous city of Harnai, where a lack of paved roads, electricity and mobile phone coverage hampered rescuers.

"We are receiving information that 20 people have been killed due to the earthquake. Rescue efforts are under way," provincial interior minister Mir Zia Ullah Langau said. 

A woman and six children were among the 20 dead, Mr Suhail Anwar Hashmi, a senior provincial government official, told AFP, adding that "more than 200 people have been injured". 

"We are soon sending helicopters to the area to help support the rescue operation and to evacuate injured," Mr Hashmi said. 

Mr Naseer Nasar, the head of Balochistan’s Provincial Disaster Management authority, warned that the toll may rise.

The quake caused electricity to fail in the region, with health staff working until dawn without lights in a poorly equipped government hospital.

About 250 homes collapsed and many people were killed by falling roofs and crumbling walls in the district’s Babu Mohallah neighbourhood, said Nawab Khan, a local journalist.

Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered immediate assessment of the damages and offered condolences to families that lost loved ones, adding, “I have ordered immediate assistance on an emergency basis ... for the earthquake victims.”

Social media showed houses shaking and light fittings swaying as the quake struck. Stunned residents later gathered in the streets in the dark. Geo Television carried CCTV footage of trucks shaking.

Before daybreak, "we were operating without electricity with the help of torches and mobile flashlights", Mr Zahoor Tarin, a senior official at the government-run Harnai hospital, told AFP. 

"Most of the injured came with fractured limbs. Dozens of people were sent back after first aid," he said, adding that "at least 40 people were received with critical injuries". 

"We have imposed an emergency in the hospital and are providing them medical treatment."

Private individuals were helping to rush the injured to hospitals.

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

In October 2015, a 7.5-magnitude quake in Pakistan and Afghanistan killed almost 400 people across rugged terrain that impeded relief efforts. 

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