Islamabad: (Ch Mudassar Iqbal): A powerful 5.8-magnitude earthquake jolted several cities and northern parts of the country on Tuesday afternoon, leaving at least 23 people dead and over 300 others injured, officials said. At least 100 of those injured are in a critical state.
The tremors lasted for 8-10 seconds and were felt strongly, reported.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is currently in the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly, has expressed his grief over the loss of human life. Both he and Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa have issued directives to civilian and military agencies for emergency rescue and relief efforts.
Occurring just after 4pm, the shallow quake had hit 22.3 kilometres north of Jhelum, along the boundary separating the agricultural heartland of Punjab and Azad Kashmir, according to the US Geological Survey.
“The quake was 10 kilometres deep and was felt in most of Punjab province and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The worst hit was Mirpur, Azad Kashmir,” chief meteorologist Muhammad Riaz told.
Other cities where tremors were felt included Islamabad, Mirpur, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sialkot, Sargodha, Mansehra, Gujrat, Chitral, Malakand, Multan, Shangla, Bajaur, Swat, Sahiwal and Rahim Yar Khan.
Mirpur Deputy Inspector General of Police Sardar Gulfraz Khan said at least 23 people, three of them young children, were reported to have died and more than 300 others wounded due to the quake. The casualties were shifted to Divisional Headquarters Hospital Mirpur. At least 10 people died in Jatlan village alone.
Mirpur Divisional Commissioner Chaudhry Muhammad Tayyab said among the people being treated for their wounds, at least 35 have sustained critical injuries. The chief of the National Disaster Management Authority later put the number of critical injuries at around 100.
Earlier, AJK Minister for Sports, Youth and Culture Chaudhry Mohammad Saeed had told that a state of emergency had been declared in state-run and private hospitals in Mirpur.
Saeed, who had returned from Mirpur city, said most of the injured were from the outskirts of Mirpur, such as Afzalpur, Jatlan and New City.
“People were panicked in the beginning, but they have gradually started adjusting themselves with the situation,” he added.
He revealed that pharmacies in Mirpur are offering free medicines to the victims, in a gesture of humanity.
AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, who was in Lahore since Monday to attend Kashmir-related events, cut short his visit and rushed to Mirpur “to supervise rescue, relief and rehabilitation services”, his office said in a statement.
“The prime minister has directed all government departments to leave no stone unturned in helping out victims of this […] natural disaster,” the statement added.
Tremors were felt as far as New Delhi, while the Press Trust of India reported that people rushed out of their homes and offices in panic in several places, including in Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana. According to DNA India, the quake was also felt in parts of Indian-occupied Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh.
Rescue efforts: The military’s media wing had tweeted soon after the quake that Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has issued directions for troops to conduct an “immediate rescue operation” in aid of the civil administration for victims.
Army troops with aviation and medical support teams have been dispatched to the area, the statement had said.
In a later update, Inter-Services Public Relations said Pakistan Army aviation helicopters had completed aerial reconnaissance for damage assessment in Mirpur, Jarikas and Jatlan areas. Army troops have also reached these areas. “Relief and rescue efforts [are] underway,” it added.
Prime Minister Imran, in a statement from New York, “expressed his profound sorrow over the damage and loss of precious lives” caused by the earthquake.
The premier also instructed the relevant departments to provide all possible assistance for relief in the disaster-struck areas.
The National Disaster Management Authority has also been instructed to speed up its relief operations in all areas hit by the earthquake.
Pakistan straddles part of the boundary where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, making the country particularly susceptible to earthquakes.
In October 2015, a 7.5-magnitude quake in Pakistan and Afghanistan had killed almost 400 people, flattening buildings in rugged terrain, which impeded relief efforts.
The country was also hit by a 7.6-magnitude quake on October 8, 2005, which killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless, mainly in AJK.