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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Earthquake in Pakistan Kills Hundreds - Germany offer's Aid

A powerful earthquake jolted parts of southwestern Pakistan early Wednesday, leaving at least 150 people dead and hundreds more injured, officials said. The death toll was expected to rise.

The 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, and several districts of the province between 4:30 a.m. and 5:10 a.m Wednesday, causing widespread destruction, the state-run news agency reported.

Nine aftershocks had been felt by 11 a.m., the officials said.

"It was a shallow earthquake, which are very destructive. The aftershocks will be felt for a week with more or less the same intensity," Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, the director general of Pakistan's Meteorological Department, said.

The epicenter was 112 kilometers, or 70 miles, north of Quetta. Chaudhry said the area was prone to earthquakes.

Army troops and medics were moved in two helicopters from Quetta to the villages of Warchoom and Kawas in the Ziarat District, one of the worst-affected areas, a military spokesman said. Other districts affected were Kuchlak, Pishin, Chaman, Mastung and Loralai.

Rescue teams scrambled to help the people in those areas as an emergency was declared in the province's hospitals.

Panic spread through Quetta on Wednesday morning as people spilled into the streets after the earthquake.

"It was scary," Malik Siraj Akbar, a resident of Quetta and a journalist for the Daily Times, an English-language newspaper, said by telephone.

"The walls of the apartment complex where I live shook so hard that I just closed my eyes and waited for the roof to collapse. I feel so lucky to be alive," Akbar said.

"My computer, my books, fell from the table. Everything was scattered."

He said many people who fled into the streets remained outside for hours. "Most were reluctant to go back inside the apartment complex," he said.

Junaid Tariq, an administrator at the Women's University in Quetta, said many of the houses in the villages hit by the earthquake are made of mud brick and wooden logs, and collapse easily. He said there was no electricity in Quetta.

Local television news networks showed people sitting under the open sky, shivering in the cold in the far-flung districts of the impoverished province. Women huddled together in groups with their frightened children.

Hundreds of mud-brick houses were leveled. People were seen rummaging through the rubble, looking for survivors and belongings.

Baluchistan is a mineral-rich area mainly of dry, mountainous terrain. A low-level insurgency has long simmered there as Baluch nationalists have taken up arms demanding greater autonomy and a share of the national wealth.

Pakistan lies in a high seismic activity area, the officials said. In 2005, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed more than 75,000 people in the northern region and the part of the disputed Kashmir region it administers.

Germany offered cash aid to Islamabad on Wednesday after the earthquake in Pakistan.

In Berlin, the Foreign Ministry said 250,000 euros (315,000 dollars) would be available to relief organizations to supply tents, blankets and food to the devastated area.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had visited Pakistan on Tuesday for political talks, sent a message to his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, voicing condolences to the victims.

The pre-dawn earthquake killed at least 160 people, media reports said Wednesday.

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