Quake in Pakistan Kills at Least 215

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A powerful earthquake jolted parts of southwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, causing widespread destruction in one of the poorest areas of the country, officials said.

The Associated Press put the death toll at 215 early Thursday. Hundreds more were injured as hundreds of mud houses in desolate villages and hamlets in several districts of Baluchistan Province were leveled by the magnitude 6.5 quake, which struck at 5:10 a.m. Army and paramilitary troops and aid workers scrambled to help the survivors and pull bodies and the injured out of the rubble, but they were hampered by significant damage to roads and the telecommunications network.
The death toll is expected to rise as reports from remote areas funnel in. Meanwhile, an estimated 15,000 people left homeless are trying to withstand the cold and serious aftershocks. Local television showed residents sitting in the open, shivering in the cold. Women huddled in groups with their panicked children. Debris of mud houses with caved roofs presented a bleak sight.
People were shown searching through the rubble for survivors and belongings. There were reports of mass burials.
“It was a shallow earthquake, which is very destructive,” said Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, the director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department. “The aftershocks will be felt for a week with more or less the same intensity.” Indeed, one on Wednesday evening had a magnitude of 6.2.
The quake struck along a 44-mile stretch including Quetta, the provincial capital, which lies on a fault line and was leveled in 1935 by a quake that killed 35,000 people.
“It was scary,” Malik Siraj Akbar, a resident of Quetta and a journalist for The Daily Times, an English-language daily, 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.”
Aid workers said that 2,000 to 3,000 homes were damaged and that 500 had collapsed.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had sent two teams of aid workers to the area, a total of 28 staff members and volunteers, and two mobile health teams.
“Shelter is the most critical need now,” said Hasan Muzamdar, the country director of the relief agency CARE, noting that nighttime temperatures fall to 40 degrees. “Winter has already started here.”
The earthquake on Wednesday brought back bitter memories of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake that struck in October 2005 and left more than 75,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless in the northern parts of Pakistan and parts of the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India. In that disaster, frustration with the slow pace of government assistance tended to run high.
A poor government response in Baluchistan, where bitterness against the federal government in Islamabad has simmered for years, could be very damaging. One of Pakistan’s four provinces, Baluchistan is rich with natural resources and sparsely populated, and armed Baluch nationalists have been demanding greater autonomy and a larger share of the national wealth. However, the affected area is inhabited by Pashtuns, a strongly tribal ethnic group that constitutes the majority of the population of Afghanistan.
But officials in Islamabad said the government was taking necessary measures. “It is a localized affair,” said Farooq Ahmed Khan, head of the National Disaster Management Authority, at a news conference in Islamabad.
He said that 2,000 tents, 5,000 blankets and 4,000 plastic mats had been sent to Baluchistan and that 12 helicopters were taking part in the rescue operation. “There were no major buildings in the area,” he said. “So, there was no need for a technical search-and-rescue operation.”
In the hilly tourist resort of Ziarat, a tent village has been established for women and children, as well as a field hospital in the worst-affected district. Eight villages were completely flattened there, officials said.
Mr. Khan said there was no immediate need to appeal for international assistance but also welcomed “any outside help.”