23 killed as earthquake flattens mine and housing in Pakistan mountains

23 killed as earthquake flattens mine and housing in Pakistan mountains
A local resident looks his damaged house following a severe earthquake hit the area, in Harnai, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Quetta, Pakistan, Thursday, Pakistan. A powerful earthquake shook parts of southwestern Pakistan early Thursday. (AP Photo)

A powerful earthquake has collapsed at least one coal mine and dozens of mud houses in south-west Pakistan, killing at least 23 people and injuring more than 200, an official said.

The death toll is expected to rise as crews search the remote mountainous area, said Suhail Anwar Shaheen, the local deputy commissioner.

At least four of the dead were killed when the coal mine in which they were working collapsed, said Mr Shaheen, citing miners in the area.

As many as 100 homes also collapsed, burying sleeping residents.

An injured boy receives treatment at a local hospital (AP)

The epicentre of the 5.9 magnitude quake was about nine miles north-north-east of Harnai in Baluchistan province, according to the US Geological Survey.

The initial measurement of the quake’s strength was 5.7 magnitude. It struck about five and a half below the Earth’s surface. Shallower quakes tend to cause more damage.

The area, about 60 miles from Quetta, the provincial capital, is dotted with coal mines, and the tremor struck in the early morning while scores of miners were at work.

Pakistan’s military was deployed to the area to airlift dozens of injured people from mountain peaks, and search and rescue teams have arrived in the area.

At least nine critically injured people were taken to Quetta.

A family gather outside their house following the earthquake (Arshad Butt/AP)

Concern has grown about scores of coal miners who might be trapped. Homes lay in heaps of mud and straw, and residents of small mountain villages were seen wandering stunned among the rubble.

“Women, children, everyone, was running here and there,” said resident Ghulam Khan. “We were scared and we didn’t know what to do.”

Ambulances arrived to transport the injured to hospital in Harnai.

Doctors treated patients outside the hospital as 4.6 magnitude aftershocks continued into the morning hours. Children with bloodied bandages were on stretchers outside the hospital as ambulances brought more wounded.

“So far we have treated more than 200 casualties,” said Manzoor Ahmed, medical superintendent of the small, rural Harnai district hospital. As many as 15 bodies were taken there.

Most of the population in the area live in sunbaked mud houses, many of which collapsed. Mr Shaheen said it would take hours just to reach many of the hardest-hit areas.

Residents shelter in the street (Arshad Butt/AP)

Witnesses said residents were wrapped in blankets against the cold, sitting on the side of the road waiting for the aftershocks to subside and for help to arrive.

The area is remote and already the autumn night-time temperatures are chilly.

Baluchistan lies on a seismically active region, according to the provincial disaster management authority.

The worst earthquake, in 1935, destroyed the provincial capital of Baluchistan and killed more than 35,000 people. Since then, scores of earthquakes have rattled the province, Pakistan’s least populated, with just 12 million people.

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