Monday, October 26, 2015

Huge Quake Jolts North Afghan Range; Death Toll Passes 100 Across Region
Moments of panic and fear as powerful quake rocks Afghanistan and Pakistan

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Tim Craig
October 26 at 8:00 AM

KABUL — A massive earthquake rocked northeastern Afghanistan on Monday with tremors felt
across the region from Pakistan to Central Asia, leaving more than 100 dead amid collapsed buildings and panicked stampedes with officials bracing for possible further casualties.

The full extent of damage and the human toll was not immediately clear as rescue teams tried to reach areas hardest hit by the quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 7.5 and was centered in a remote area of the Hindu Kush mountains.

Early reports from Pakistan and Afghanistan said the death count included 12 students at a girls’ school in northern Afghanistan who died in a frantic dash from shaking buildings.

“They were not killed by the collapse of the wall or rooms, but died trying to get out under the feet of the others,” said Mohammad Dawood Agha, a senior police official in the Takhar province.

The Associated Press, citing various tallies from officials and health centers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said at least 105 people had died.

Previous major quakes in the region have left extensive deaths or injuries.

“Given the intensity and duration of the quake, there are likelihood of casualties,” said Sedid Hassan, an official with Afghanistan’s Disaster Management Department.

Many in the Afghan capital, Kabul, described the temblor as the biggest they have felt in their lives.

In Pakistan’s scenic northern Gilgit-Baltisan area, there were concerns of widespread damage. Residents reported numerous landslides and avalanches during the quake. One man photographed a huge chunk of rock and ice crashing down into the Hunza Valley, which is surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains.

The U.S. Geographical Survey , which monitors earthquake patterns, put the quake’s preliminary magnitude at 7.5 and placed its epicenter in the mountains of Badakhshan Province, about 160 miles northeast of Kabul near the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The area, known as Jarm, is believed to be relatively sparsely populated. It’s also a district where the Taliban have a big presence, and has engaged in battles with Afghan security forces this year.

Local news organizations were reporting that the damage in some areas across Afghanistan and Pakistan could be extensive, and that hospitals across the region were on standby to treat victims.

“One of the scariest experiences,” tweeted Bilal Sarwary, a freelance Afghan journalist. “Was stuck inside a building during this massive earthquake.”

In a statement, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, said he had ordered the country’s armed forces to start carrying out rescue operations “without caring or waiting for orders.”

In Islamabad, the earthquake was felt in two sharp, back-to-back, jolts that lasted for about 30 seconds each. There were no immediate reports of damage in the capital, but terrified residents ran out in the streets when the shaking began.

“The first shock was mild, but then came the big one and I screamed, ‘God, Help us.’ I thought it was the end of everything. The house was shaking, the trees and even the earth were shaking,” said Zafar Iqbal, who was working as a supervisor at a local restaurant. “I am still terrified.”

Arifullah, a teacher in Islamabad, said he immediately had a flashback to the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit northern Pakistan in 2005. That earthquake killed 70,000 to 80,000 people.

“We ran outside and the students ran too and turned pale with fear,” said Arifullah, who has only one name. “We kept reciting the verses of the Holy Koran and asked for God’s help and his forgiveness . . . I heard a loud sound and then all the earth was shaking.”

Pakistan’s meteorological service, which conducts its own assessment of earthquakes, estimated the quake was a magnitude 8.1 that lasted for 90 seconds.

The U.S. Geological Survey said seven other quakes of magnitude 7 or greater have occurred within 150 miles of Monday’s epicenter, the most recent in March 2002 just 12 miles west of the latest quake zone. More than 150 people died in the 2002 quake.

In northern India, tremors were felt throughout the region — most severely in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, where widespread power and telephone outages were reported. The national capital region temporarily suspended Metro service in New Delhi as a precaution in the quake’s aftermath.

“I pray for everyone’s safety,” wrote India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in a Twitter message.

“I have asked for an urgent assessment and we stand ready for assistance where required, including Afghanistan & Pakistan,” Modi said in his second tweet. The Indian military had responded in force after the Nepal earthquake earlier this year, assisting with helicopter rescue missions and providing humanitarian aid.

In April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal claimed more than 9,000 lives and left some mountain villages cut off from aid for days.

Sayed Salahuddin and Mohammad Sharif in Kabul, Annie Gowen in New Delhi and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

Sudarsan Raghavan has been The Post's Kabul bureau chief since 2014. He was previously based in Nairobi and Baghdad for the Post.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.

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