October 9, 2005
Earthquake's Toll Sure to Rise; Aftershocks Are Feared
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sunday, Oct. 9 - A powerful earthquake centered in the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan on Saturday morning sent tremors across South Asia, killing more than 18,000 people, including at least 1,600 in remote northern Pakistan, among them hundreds across both sides of disputed Kashmir.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan's chief army spokesman, who announced the toll on Sunday, said at least 45,000 people had been injured, a vast majority on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. He said that "so far there are many areas which have not been reached" by the army, but that military units were expected to reach all of them by the end of the day.
The quake was centered in the far-flung villages of the North-West Frontier Province, but it shook houses and high-rises throughout the region.
More than 1,600 were believed to have been killed in that province alone, the provincial police control room reported Saturday night. That toll includes an estimated 650 children who were killed in the collapse of three different schools.
Estimates of the quake's magnitude varied from 6.8 to 7.8, with the United States Geological Survey putting the number at 7.6. Its epicenter was roughly 60 miles north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where 20 "significant aftershocks" measuring between 5 and 6.2 magnitude were felt throughout the day on Saturday, Dr. Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, director general of the Meteorological Department in Islamabad, said by telephone on Saturday evening. Officials warned that serious aftershocks could continue for two days.
The earthquake, which sent tremors as far east as New Delhi, the Indian capital, and west to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was the biggest to strike the country in a century, Dr. Chaudhry said.
The top police official of the North-West Frontier Province, Riffat Pasha, said Saturday evening that the death toll there continued to rise and that relief efforts had been stymied by blocked roads and broken communication channels.
"The situation is very, very bad," he said. "There are bodies lying everywhere. Those who have survived are lying in the open without food, shelter or medicine.
"The situation has been made worse by the rain and hailstorm that followed the earthquake," he continued. "There is no way we can reach out to them."
Private television stations showed images of leveled houses in the Pakistani side of Kashmir. Telephone lines remained down, and roads were blocked because of landslides. Torrential rain on Saturday evening was likely to impede relief efforts.
In the Indian-held section of the disputed Kashmir region, the death toll climbed to more than 240 by Saturday evening, including more than 30 Indian soldiers standing sentry at the disputed frontier. An untold number of houses were flattened, telephone lines and electricity were disrupted, and several roads were blocked by landslides, cutting the Kashmir Valley off from the rest of the country. The quake also destroyed a number of religious shrines, mosques and temples.
The death toll in Pakistan included 200 soldiers in the Pakistani-controlled section of Kashmir, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao said in a CNN interview.
In Rawalpindi, a school for girls collapsed, killing one child and injuring six, said Sheik Rashid Ahmed, the information minister.
In eastern Afghanistan, four children were crushed to death and a woman was injured as the mud walls of their homes collapsed. News from remote mountainous areas near the border with Pakistan could take days to reach the provincial capitals.
Islamabad was in panic, and people spilled onto the streets. Traffic jams clogged roads, and residents huddled in groups outside houses, shopping plazas and government buildings. The cellphone network collapsed for at least 90 minutes.
Margalla Towers, an upscale five-tower apartment complex, took the city's biggest hit from the quake. One tower collapsed, and part of another fell. Army and civil authorities reached the site within 30 minutes. Rescue workers estimated that at least 150 people, mostly women and children, were stranded under the rubble of the building.
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan visited the apartment complex in Islamabad with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. General Musharraf expressed satisfaction with the rescue operation.
"It is a test for all of us," he said in an interview on state television. "We are sure we will pass this test."
In Washington, President Bush expressed his sympathies for the victims of the earthquake. "Our initial deployments of assistance are underway, and we stand ready to provide additional assistance as needed," he said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this horrible tragedy."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also issued a statement, saying she had spoken Saturday morning with the foreign ministers of Pakistan and India to offer American help. "At this difficult time, the United States stands with its friends in Pakistan and India, just as they stood with us and offered assistance after Hurricane Katrina," the statement said.
The quake occurred along one of the earth's great collision zones. The Indian subcontinent, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, rides on a separate tectonic plate that was attached to Antarctica until 150 million years ago. It broke away and moved north. About 50 million years ago, the plate slammed into Asia, and the buckling of earth created the Himalayan mountains. The Indian subcontinent continues to move north at more than an inch a year.
A magnitude 6.2 earthquake in the same area in December 1974 killed 5,300 people. Because the quake on Saturday was shallow, 6 to 10 miles underground, the shaking on the surface was probably more intense than other quakes of its magnitude, said Waverly J. Person, a seismologist with the United States Geological Surveys National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. "These are the most damaging earthquakes," he said.
Because it occurred inland, there was no danger of it setting off a tsunami, as happened after the huge Indian Ocean quake in December. The deadliest recent quake in the region was in January 2001. It was centered in Gujarat in western India and killed about 20,000 people.
As for the earthquake on Saturday, no foreshocks gave any sign that a large quake was imminent; several large aftershocks, up to magnitude 6.3, came afterward.
At Margalla Towers in Islamabad, army troops and paramedics searched the rubble for survivors and made a human chain to clear the debris. Heavy cranes lifted slabs of concrete from the site.
A man who identified himself as Masood and said he lived on the ninth floor of an adjacent building said he was asleep when the tremors rocked the building. He said he ran down all nine flights of stairs. "It's a miracle that we survived," he said.
Tasawar Kamal, 29, who lives a half-mile from Margalla Towers, said his family rushed to the rooftop of a nearby apartment complex. "From the rooftop, we saw the tower collapsing and immediately rushed here because our maternal uncle lives here," he said.
Tents were set up for people who had been evacuated from the nearby apartment blocks. Officials said they planned to bring dogs and heavy machinery to rescue people stuck in the basement of the collapsed building.
A state of emergency was declared at hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. In Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, two buildings collapsed in Shah Alami neighborhood. No casualties were reported.
In the North-West Frontier Province, Balakot, a picturesque tourist town, was among the communities that were leveled. In another town, Mansehra, officials said 70 percent of the houses had collapsed. Mushahid Hussain Syed, a senator, said, "It is such a disaster, at such a big scale, that the whole nation has to be mobilized."
Reporting for this article was contributed by Kenneth Chang from New York, Carlotta Gall and Aziz-u-Rahman Gulbahari from Kabul, Yusuf Jameel from Srinagar, Mohammed Khan from Peshawar and Salman Masood in Islamabad.
I'm surprised nobody had commented on this . . . 18,000!
Very very sad . . . then, on a separate note, there was a major mudslide in Guatemala that killed at least 800 and wiped out an entire town . . .