Death toll rises to 37 in Pakistan earthquake, as families bury loved ones
By Akhtar Soomro and Abu Arqam Naqash
MIRPUR/MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – The death toll from an earthquake that struck Pakistani Kashmir jumped to 37, officials said on Wednesday, as families mourned relatives and rescue teams sent supplies to the area.
Officials said the extent of the casualties, who included young children, emerged a day after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck as authorities were able to reach towns and villages around the region outside main population centres.
“We had dispatched survey teams in the entire area affected by the earthquake to collect details of the victims,” Muhammad Tayyab, divisional commissioner for Mirpur, one of the worst affected areas, told Reuters, adding that around 500 people had been injured.
Tuesday’s earthquake levelled homes and shops and split open roads in an area between the towns of Jhelum and Mirpur to the north, part of which is in Pakistan’s portion of the disputed territory of Kashmir.
“The situation is slowly returning to normal, the level of panic is now less among the people, although an aftershock was felt at night,” said Sardar Gulfaraz Khan, a police deputy inspector general.
Most of the damage happened in villages where old houses collapsed, Khan said.
In a town in Mirpur district, more than 200 people gathered to attend the funeral of a 1-1/2-year-old child who was killed in the earthquake. Women wailed around the bed where the boy’s body lay covered in a blanket.
Another child in the town was buried the same morning after a wall collapsed on her.
“All of sudden I received a call from my father that there was an earthquake and my little sister is badly injured,” her brother Mohammad Hameed said. “She was injured and (now) she has left us.”
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had earlier said 25 people had been killed and that most of the casualties were in Pakistani Kashmir.
Many people from the area slept outdoors overnight and some were returning home on Wednesday to collect belongings and inspect damage.
Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal, the NDMA’s chief, said the authority would bring in 200 family-sized tents for temporary shelters, kitchen sets, blankets and 50,000 bottles of water.
Troops and other emergency responders carried out rescue operations through the night, with engineers starting repairs on a key road that was severely damaged, the Pakistan Army’s communications arm said.
Afzal said the road would reopen by Thursday evening. Three bridges were also damaged.
The earthquake disrupted power to the region, but it had been restored by midday on Wednesday, NDMA said.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a tweet, offered condolences to families of the victims and said he had directed the government to quickly offer relief and assess damage.
Kashmir has been in dispute between India and Pakistan since the two countries were carved out of British colonial India in 1947 and have been the cause of two wars between them.
(Reporting by Abu Arqam Naqash in Muzaffarabad and Akhtar Soomro in Mirpur; Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Writing by Rod Nickel and Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Editing by Tom Hogue and Alex Richardson)