Deadly earthquake topples homes and collapses mines in Pakistan

Rescue worker and residents stand amid the rubble of a damaged house following an earthquake in Harnai
Rescue workers and residents stand amid the rubble of a damaged house following an earthquake in Harnai, Baluchistan, Pakistan, October 7, 2021. NASEER AHMED/REUTERS

Quetta, Pakistan — A powerful earthquake collapsed at least one coal mine and dozens of mud houses in southwest Pakistan early Thursday, killing at least 23 people as the death toll continued to creep higher. At least 200 others were injured, an official said.
 
The death toll was expected to rise as crews searched in the remote mountainous area, said Suhail Anwar Shaheen, the local deputy commissioner.
 
At least four people were killed when the coal mine in which they were working collapsed, said Shaheen, citing coal miners in the area. As many as 100 homes also collapsed, burying sleeping residents inside.
 
In one case, a mother died along with her two young sons when their home collapsed, said Wali Muhammad, a relative. Nearby, the body of an 8-year-old girl was found beneath the rubble of her home.

A man carries the body of a child, who died following an earthquake, during a funeral in Harnai
A man carries the body of a child who died in an earthquake, during a funeral in Harnai, Baluchistan, Pakistan, October 7, 2021. NASEER AHMED/REUTERS

The epicenter of the 5.9 magnitude quake was about 9 miles north-northeast of Harnai in Baluchistan province, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The initial measurement of the quake’s strength was 5.7 magnitude. It struck about 5.5 miles below the Earth’s surface; shallower quakes tend to cause more damage.
 
The area, about 60 miles from Quetta, the provincial capital, is dotted with coal mines, which had Shaheen worried that the death toll could rise. It struck in the early morning while scores of miners were already at work, he said.
 
Pakistan’s military was deployed to the earthquake area to airlift dozens of injured from mountain peaks. At least nine critically injured people were taken to the provincial hospital in Quetta. Search and rescue teams have arrived in the mountains, an army statement said.
 
Homes lay in heaps of mud and straw. Residents of small mountain villages were seen wandering stunned among the rubble.
 
“Women, children, everyone was running here and there,” said resident Ghulam Khan. “We were scared and we didn’t know what to do.”
 
Ambulances soon arrived to transport the injured to the hospital in Harnai. Doctors treated patients outside the hospital as 4.6 magnitude aftershocks continued into the morning hours. Children with bloodied bandages were seen on stretchers outside the hospital as ambulances brought more wounded.

Social media video still of people gathering outside a hospital following an earthquake in Harnai, Pakistan
People gather outside a hospital following an earthquake in Harnai, Baluchistan, Pakistan, October 7, 2021, in a still image obtained from video.  QUETTAVOICE.COM via REUTERS

“So far we have treated more than 200 casualties,” said Manzoor Ahmed, medical superintendent of the Harnai district hospital. The small rural facility has been taxed to the limit, he said. As many as 15 bodies were brought there.
 
By early afternoon Thursday, funerals were being held in small villages dotting the mountainside.
 
Most of the population in the area live in sunbaked mud houses, many of which collapsed. Rescue efforts were underway, but Shaheen said it would take hours just to reach many of the hardest-hit areas.
 
Witnesses said residents were wrapped in blankets against the cold, sitting on the side of the road waiting for the aftershocks to subside and for help to arrive.
  
Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan lies on a seismically active region, according to the provincial disaster management authority. The worst earthquake, in 1935, destroyed the provincial capital of Baluchistan and killed more than 35,000 people. Since then, scores of earthquakes have rattled the province, which is Pakistan’s least populated, with just 12 million people.
 
Pakistan is a nation of 220 million people, 60% of whom live in the country’s eastern Punjab province.