At least 20 killed as quake hits Pakistan-administered Kashmir

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At least 20 people have been killed and more than 300 injured after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattled Pakistan-administered Kashmir and areas in Punjab province.

Tuesday’s quake hit 22 kilometres (14 miles) north of the city of Jhelum along the boundary separating the agricultural heartland of Punjab province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the US geological agency, USGS, said.

“Right now we have confirmed the death of 20 people and about 300 people are injured. That number  could increase because some people are still being brought to the hospitals,” Mirpur police chief Gul Faraz told Al Jazeera. 

Faraz said the damage was mainly limited to the area around the city of Mirpur, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, located about 85km (53 miles) southeast of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

“Our main road that goes along the canal was badly damaged and a bridge was destroyed. People are being brought in on motorcycles from there,” he said.

Local disaster management officials told Al Jazeera they were still gathering reports from the site of the earthquake, but had received word of damage to infrastructure.

“We have reports of cracks in the roads there,” said disaster management official Ammar Raza Shaikh. 

Tahir Mahmood, a senior police official in Rawalakot, about 80km (50 miles) from Mirpur, said “there is a lot of damage to infrastructure [in Mirpur]”.

“Roads seem to have developed cracks and sunk down. Lots of vehicles were thrown around.”

Electricity supply to both Mirpur and Kotli districts is down, the National Disaster Management Authority said in a statement, confirming the death toll at 20. 

“So far, 200 tents, 800 blankets and 110 rescuers have been dispatched to the scene,” the statement added. 

‘Walls were swaying’

A shop owner in Mirpur told local tv channel Geo News that the walls started shaking when the quake struck.

“I knew that it is a strong earthquake. The moment I came out of my shop, the roof collapsed,” he said.

The street he was standing on was filled with debris of the damaged houses and shops.

Ramzan Ahmad, 65, who suffered a head injury and bleeding nose, said he was with his family of seven when his house collapsed.

“We all got injuries,” he told Reuters news agency. “I saw dozens of houses razed on my way to the hospital.” 

The country’s military spokesman said an “immediate rescue operation” was launched “in aid of civil administration”.

“Army troops with aviation and medical support teams dispatched,” military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted.

Tremors were felt in the eastern city of Lahore, about 270km (170 miles) south, and as far away as the Indian capital of New Delhi (more than 800km (500 miles) away. 

Indian news agency the Press Trust of India reported that people rushed from their homes and offices in panic in several places, including in Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana.

In October 2015, a magnitude 7.5-quake in Pakistan and Afghanistan killed almost 400 people, flattening buildings in rugged terrain that impeded relief efforts.

The country was also hit by a magnitude-7.6 quake on October 8, 2005, that killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless, mainly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Additional reporting by Asad Hashim in Islamabad

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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