At least 15 people were killed on Saturday when a powerful 7.2-magnitude aftershock struck areas of southwest Pakistan devastated by a massive earthquake that claimed over 500 lives earlier this week. The latest deaths bring the official toll from the temblors to about 550. The unofficial figure is as high as 700, with more than 800 injured.
People ran into the streets in panic after the aftershock, which had its epicentre in the impoverished Balochistan province.
Eight persons were killed in Nok Jo, a small village in Awaran with a population of around 15,000. Four more deaths were reported from Mashkay area, officials said. Several people were injured by Saturday's aftershock, said Balochistan government spokesman Jan Mohammad Buledi. Some homes damaged but still standing after Tuesday's quake collapsed, officials said.
Pakistan's met office said the aftershock measured 7.2 on the Richter scale. However, the United States Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.8 and said the epicentre was located 96 km northeast of Awaran district, which recorded over 300 deaths after Tuesday's temblor.
Over 60 mud houses collapsed when the aftershock struck, said Deputy Commissioner Rasheed Baloch. The bodies of four persons killed by the earlier quake were also pulled out of the rubble, reports said.
The walls of a government hospital developed cracks because of the aftershock. Baloch said a rescue operation was underway in Awaran and nearby areas to retrieve bodies and to move the injured to hospitals. "Poor communication system are a major hindrance in the relief operations," he said.
Strong tremors were felt in several parts of Balochistan. A session of the provincial assembly was underway when the aftershock struck. Footage on television showed ministers and lawmakers walking out of the assembly as the session was hurriedly suspended.
The tremors were also felt in Kech, Khuzdar, Kalat and other towns of Balochistan. The aftershock was felt as far away as Naushero Feroz, Shikarpur, Karachi and Hyderabad in southern Sindh province.
Zahid Rafi, director of the National Seismic Centre, said the epicentre of this quake was once again in Awaran. "But these were more like strong aftershocks and more can be expected," he said.
Tuesday's quake left over 50,000 people homeless in Balochistan. The affected areas were also rocked by a massive aftershock measuring 5 on the Richter scale on Friday.
According to an official preliminary damage assessment, Awaran has borne "partial damage" of 30 to 40 per cent. Two other districts, Mashkal and Malar, were said to be "badly hit" with 80 to 90 per cent damage.
A map showing the damage was uploaded on Twitter by chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa to give an idea about the extent of damage. Meanwhile, rescue teams faced attacks by Baloch nationalist militants active in the quake-hit areas.
An army helicopter carrying relief goods was fired at in Mashkay area of Awaran district by suspected militants on Friday. The helicopter was not damaged in the attack.
This was the second attack on an army helicopter in the area. On Thursday, two army generals, including the head of the national disaster management authority, had a narrow escape when rockets were fired at their helicopter.
Security personnel accompanying a team of doctors for relief operations were fired at on Wednesday. "It is highly condemnable that while the government along with armed forces and the entire nation continue with its efforts to provide life to their brethren in distress in quake affected areas, miscreants and terrorists in Balochistan continue to disrupt and cause hindrance in provision of relief goods," a Pakistani military official told PTI.
Though the army and Frontier Corps moved 1,000 troops to the worst-hit areas, it is feared that people may still be trapped under the debris of thousands of collapsed mud homes. The areas near the epicentre area a stronghold of Baloch militants.
Image: A house damaged in the earthquake