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Powerful quakes rocks Pakistan, Iran; at least 180 dead

February 28, 1997

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Villagers in western Pakistan dug with bare hands through mud to reach their neighbors Friday after a powerful earthquake killed at least 80 people. Hours later, a quake in northwest Iran reportedly killed more than 100 people.

More than 250 people were injured in the magnitude-5.5 quake that struck the northwestern Iranian towns of Ardabil and Meshkinshahr on Friday afternoon, Iranian television reported. The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., said the magnitude was 6.1.

That quake came about 16 hours after one struck a remote corner of western Pakistan, 1,200 miles to the southeast. The pre-dawn, magnitude-7.3 quake crushed flimsy mud homes, killing more than 80 people.

It was centered 70 miles east-southeast of the provincial capital of Quetta, according to the Geological Survey, but hardest hit was remote Sibi district.

``There was complete panic,″ said Shahzad Zulfikar, an area resident reached by telephone. ``I have never felt such a violent shaking.″

Ambulance workers said as many as 60 people may have died in Harnai, a village in Sibi that is only 30 miles from the quake’s epicenter and largely was destroyed.

Rescue workers sent in by air ambulance said at least 80 people had died in the quake. They expected the death toll to rise above 100.

Rescue efforts were hampered by the remoteness of the region, a vast plain where the population is scattered among hundreds of small villages.

The main road to the area collapsed and the rail line to Quetta, about 400 miles southwest of Islamabad, was badly damaged by the earthquake, said Zarar Haider, deputy commissioner of Sibi.

He said a convoy of trucks loaded with emergency workers and supplies was trying to reach the region, and the army had been deployed to help.

While waiting for the rescue workers to arrive, desperate survivors dug with their hands in search of relatives and neighbors in the wreckage of their baked-mud homes.

Hospitals struggled to keep up with the wounded in need of aid and public buildings were turned into temporary shelters. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the area and ordered emergency relief sent in.

At sunrise, authorities in Quetta were urging people to return to their homes. But most people, wrapped in woolen blankets and sleeping on the roadside, refused, fearful of further tremors.

Electricity was shut down briefly following the quake, but telephones and water supplies were unaffected.

The worst earthquake to hit quake-prone Baluchistan occurred in 1935 when 30,000 people were killed.

Update hourly