Pakistani troops scrambled yesterday to aid the remote victims of an earthquake centered in nearby Iran, as the US offered assistance and a strong aftershock jolted the region.
The epicentre of Tuesday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake lay in southeast Iran, but all 40 deaths reported so far have been across the border in Pakistan’s poor province of Baluchistan, where hundreds of mud-built homes suffered damage.
The powerful tremor shook the ground and caused panic as far afield as Kuwait and the Indian capital New Delhi. Thousands of people evacuated towering residential and office buildings in Dubai.
A new aftershock early yesterday frayed nerves on the Iran-Pakistan border. The US Geological Survey measured its magnitude at 5.7.
In Pakistan, officials said that regular army and paramilitary forces had deployed to help the relief effort after Tuesday’s quake brought down homes in the Mashkail area of Baluchistan.
Military helicopters carrying medical teams have been sent to the area, while paramilitary troops are supplementing the relief efforts, they said.
“The death toll is estimated at more than 40, including women and children,” Major Attiq Minhas of the paramilitary Frontier Corps Baluchistan said at Dalbandin airport, about 250km from Mashkail.
He said 650 personnel were involved in the rescue operation in Mashkail town and that so far medical staff had received 23 wounded people.
Abdul Bari, a 32-year-old tailor who broke his leg, said that his wife and children were fine, but feared that dozens of people from his neighborhood had been killed or wounded.
“I was on my way home from my tailoring shop when the earth started shaking and soon found myself on the ground with the wall of a house on me,” he said in Dalbandin, after traveling for five and a half hours by taxi for help.
“When I felt the tremors, I saw within seconds houses razed to the ground. It was like doomsday,” he said, while waiting for an army helicopter ambulance. “I saw three small children taken out from the debris of a collapsed wall by local people. Two were slightly injured, while one seemed serious.”
Baluchistan, an inaccessible province bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is plagued by Islamist militancy, attacks on the Shiite Muslim minority and a separatist Baluch insurgency.
Putting aside the US’ longstanding enmity with Iran, and its more recent strains in relations with Pakistan, US Secretary of State John Kerry offered “our deepest condolences” to the families of the dead and the injured.
“We stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time,” Kerry said.
Disaster relief contributed to an earlier thaw in relations between the US and Iran, which — then led by reformist Iranian president Mohammad Khatami — accepted US personnel following the huge Bam earthquake in 2003.
The US has also engaged in disaster diplomacy with Pakistan, briefly improving its abysmal image in the country through a robust emergency relief operation following a 2005 earthquake in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
The Bam earthquake killed more than 26,000 people, while more than 73,000 died in the Kashmir tremor.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed condolences after Tuesday’s disaster and said the “United Nations stands ready to help as necessary if asked to do so.”