QUETTA, October 29 – A powerful earthquake in southwest Pakistan killed more than 135 people early Wednesday, destroying mud homes and sending survivors screaming into the streets in panic.,
At least eight villages were badly hit in the 6.4-magnitude quake, police said, warning that the death toll could climb still higher as rescue workers reached villages in the remote region bordering Afghanistan.
It struck just after 5:00 am (2300 GMT Tuesday) and left scores more people injured, local authorities said.
"So far 135 bodies have been recovered from the area, many more have been injured," said Dilawar Khan Kakar, mayor of the historic hill town of Ziarat, which is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the city of Quetta.
Most of the deaths were in outlying villages, as mud houses were destroyed and the tremors triggered landslides of rocks and boulders while people slept in their beds.
In Quetta, the nearest big town, witnesses said people fled screaming from their homes. Television footage showed many outside in the streets, wrapped up against the early morning chill.
"We have reports from local party officials that more than 100 people have died," Zamarak Khan, revenue minister of gas-rich Baluchistan province, told AFP.
His colleague Mohammed Ghaiyas added: "There are still people under the debris. Around 100 people are injured."
Six people were killed in the nearby district of Pishin, police there said.
Mohammed Sultan, from the town of Sanjawai, told AFP the first tremor shook him awake from his deep sleep shortly before 5:00am, before he felt a larger shockwave about 10 minutes later.
In Ziarat buildings had collapsed and communications had been cut, he said, adding: "The town looks devastated. Parts of it are badly damaged.
"My relatives live in Ziarat but I can’t contact them to find out how they are."
The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 5:09 am and measured 6.2, later revising that magnitude up to 6.4. The Pakistan Meteorological Office put it as 6.5.
The epicentre was located some 70 kilometres north of Quetta in Baluchistan province, about 185 kilometres southeast of the Afghan city of Kandahar, they added.
A Pakistani military spokesman said some 250 troops and two helicopters had been sent from Quetta to Ziarat, while an aerial assessment of the damage was also underway. Immediate medical help was also dispatched.
"The destruction is heavy, people need immediate help and we are providing assistance to the affected people," Colonel Mohammed Babar, who flew over the region, told AFP.
After-shocks were still being felt in the region throughout the morning, the Pakistan Meteorological Office said.
In Kandahar, provincial police chief Mutihullah Khan Qatah said people had felt the quake, "but we don’t yet have any reports of casualties or damage to buildings".
Officials were trying to contact their counterparts in outlying areas, he added.
Ziarat is a historic hill resort famed for its juniper forests. It receives visitors from all over Pakistan in summer who come to see the holiday home of the country’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
Most of the casualties were from two villages on the outskirts of the town which were built on steep ground and badly damaged in landslides triggered by the quake, which struck at a depth of 10 kilometres, officials said.
Local government officials said they had asked for paramedics and rescuers.
A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in northwest Pakistan and Kashmir killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million in October 2005.
In 1935 a massive quake killed around 30,000 people in Quetta, which at the time was part of British-ruled India.