Quake kills 22, flattens buildings in Pakistani Kashmir

Roads, mobile phone towers and electricity poles had been badly damaged by the quake.
Roads, mobile phone towers and electricity poles had been badly damaged by the quake.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (NYTIMES) - A 5.6-magnitude earthquake rocked several cities in northern Pakistan and parts of the Kashmir region under its control, leaving at least 22 people dead and more than 700 injured, officials said on Tuesday (Sept 24).

The strong tremors, which struck just after 4pm on Tuesday and lasted for several seconds, shook buildings and houses, causing panicked people to pour out into roads and streets.

In Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, people scrambled out of buildings, many praying out loud.

"Our focus will be on the rescue operation in the next couple of days," Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said during a news conference in Islamabad, the capital.

"After that, we will start the relief and repatriation efforts."

The earthquake brought back painful memories of the magnitude 7.6-earthquake that struck the same region in October 2005 and left more than 75,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

On Tuesday, several houses were damaged and one building collapsed in Mirpur, part of the Pakistani-controlled area of Kashmir, government officials said.

As the injured streamed into hospitals, officials declared an emergency in Mirpur, rescue officials said.

Television news networks broadcast images of a road that buckled in several places, leaving several vehicles stuck in the depressions.

Videos shared by social media users showed images of people running out of houses and buildings during the tremors.

One widely circulated video from Mirpur showed several men running out of a house before its roof caved in.

Most of the damage was reported there and in Kotli, another part of Kashmir.

Army troops have been mobilised to help civilian authorities in Kashmir, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the spokesman of the Pakistan army, said.

Mr Raja Farooq Haider Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, cut short a visit to Lahore and headed back to his native region soon after news of the damage surfaced.

While Pakistan's meteorological department reported that the earthquake was magnitude 5.8, the US Geological Survey revised its initial figure, stating that the earthquake measured 5.6.

Officials said that the Mangla Dam, which holds one of Pakistan's biggest water reservoirs, and its power generation house were safe, although operations were temporarily shut down as a safety measure.

After hearing initial estimates of the damage, it appeared, officials felt that local authorities could cope with the emergency situation.

"For now, things are under control," Mr Afzal, the head of the national disaster management authority, said.