Hundreds Feared Dead After 7.7 Magnitude Quake Rocks Pakistan
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The temblor was felt across the country and has killed at least 200 people; various media reports have so far put the death toll at between 200 and 250, nearly all from the remote southwest province of Baluchistan, the country’s largest, but least populated province.
Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and spend the night in the open. Initial rescue efforts concentrated on the Khudzar and Awaran districts in the western region of the province where most of the fatalities were believed to have occurred, an area known for its mud-walled homes, many of which collapsed in the quake.
The army also deployed some 200 soldiers to aid in the rescue and relief efforts, according to one military spokesman in Pakistan.
The quake was so powerful it was felt some 800 miles away in Delhi, India.
Jan Buledi, a Baluchistan government spokesman, said most of the fatalities were concentrated in Awaran and its surrounding villages, and he warned the death toll could rise. He added that at least 340 people have been injured by the 7.7 magnitude quake.
“We are seriously lacking medical facilities and there is no space to treat injured people in the local hospitals,” Mr Buledi told BBC News, adding that helicopters were airlifting the most seriously injured to Karachi while others were being transported to neighboring districts for care.
Abdul Rasheed Baluch, a local government official in Awaran, said early estimates show that at least 90 percent of the homes in his district have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
“Almost all the mud houses have collapsed. We have been busy in rescue efforts for the whole night and fear we will recover more dead bodies from under the rubble during daylight,” he told the British news agency.
As daylight arrived on Wednesday, the scope of the tragedy was felt as rescuers struggled in relief efforts due to the immense devastation in the area.
Area residents also reported seeing a small island appear off the coast of Gwadar after the massive earthquake struck. People gathered on the beach to witness the event, described as a mud volcanic island some 656 feet long, 328 feet wide and nearly 65 feet high.
Other residents said the emergence of the island was Déjà vu, explaining that a 1968 earthquake also produced an island off the coast that remained for about a year before being swallowed back up by the sea.
Seismologists believe this island will also be a temporary fixture on the sea, resulting from a “mud volcano” that was produced by a stream of mud, sand and water gushing to the surface as the quake churned and pressurized the slurry under the ocean floor.
“Sandy layers underground are shaken, and sand grains jiggle and become more compact,” John Armbruster, a seismologist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University told NBC News. The shifting sand layers are compacted and pressurize the water, which gushed upwards, carrying mud and sand along with it.
This “liquefaction” process occurs with any earthquake, but these sudden islands usually only appear when stronger temblors occur, those at least magnitude 7. However, the appearance of the island so far from the quake’s epicenter is “a little bit surprising,” Armbruster told NBC News.
A similar event also occurred back in the 1940s after an earthquake struck near Karachi. The resulting island was apparently big enough to land a boat, but washed away within a few weeks, noted Armbruster.
Paul Earle, a geophysicist with the USGS, told NBC News that researchers are now investigating the new formation, but have yet to make any independent confirmations.
The region where the temblor struck is no stranger to massive earthquakes. Last April a magnitude 7.8 was centered just across the border in Iran, killing at least 35 people. In January 2011, a 7.2 magnitude quake struck, but because it was so deep underground, minimal damage occurred. A 6.4 magnitude tremor killed at least 300 in October 2008, and an earlier 2005 quake killed upwards of 73,000 people in northern Pakistan after a 7.6 magnitude temblor rocked the region.