By Islamuddin Sajid, Aamir Latif
ISLAMABAD/KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - At least 19 people were killed and more than 300 injured as a strong earthquake jolted northern and northwestern Pakistan and areas of Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir on Tuesday, an official said.
Deputy Inspector General of Police in Azad Kashmir range Gulfraz Khan confirmed the fatalities and said that rescue operations have been launched with the support of army, police and other civic agencies.
The epicenter of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake was believed to be between the northeastern Jehlum city of Punjab province and Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Afzal, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, told reporters.
All the deaths have been reported from Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir, bordering Pakistani province of Punjab.
“Medical emergency has been declared in all the hospitals in Mirpur, and our teams are on way to the affected areas,” Afzal said.
The town of Mirpur on the banks of Mangla Dam lake was badly shaken by tremors, lasting nearly 10 seconds, said Mushtaq Minhas, information minister of Azad Kashmir.
Local disaster management official Saeed ur Rehman confirmed that a residential building has collapsed in Jatlaan town of Mirpur, injuring 50 people, including women and children.
Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered authorities to accelerate relief and rescue efforts.
Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has directed the troops to join rescue efforts in the tremor-hit areas, Pakistan Army’s media wing said in a statement.
Raja Qaiser, deputy commission or Mirpur, confirmed death of a woman, saying that teams had started their operations in several parts of the district.
Footage aired on local channels showed a portion of a main highway torn apart, with several vehicles flipped down the shoulders of the road in Jatlaan area. Another portion of the same road was seen badly cracked and sunk with several vehicles trapped.
Rescue officials fear that many people may be trapped under the debris.
Shehbaz Bukjhari, a local journalist told Anadolu Agency on telephone that the main road between main Mirpur town and Jatlaan has been completely destroyed.
He said rescuers were facing difficulties in carrying out rescue and relief operations due to darkness. Power has knocked out in the region, as utility poles and trees have fallen.
A bridge on a local canal has also collapsed disconnecting several villages with the main town, he added.
Information Minister Azad Kashmir Mushtaq Minhas, told Geo TV that efforts were on to assess the intensity of the damage.
In October 2005, a massive earthquake killed over 80,000 people in Azad Kashmir and the neighboring Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The earthquake was also felt in Indian-administered Kashmir and several parts of northern India, including Jammu and Kashmir.
There have been no reports of casualties or property damages in India so far.
- Additional inputs from Riyaz ul Khaliq in Ankara