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Powerful earthquake rocks western Pakistan, 80 dead

February 28, 1997

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Villagers dug with bare hands through mud in search of their neighbors Friday after a magnitude-7.3 earthquake shattered a remote corner of western Pakistan, killing at least 80 people.

Most of the dead had been sleeping in their flimsy mud homes when the earthquake struck the southwest province of Baluchistan before dawn Friday, shaking the region for more than a minute.

Frightened residents fled to the relative safety of open areas.

``There was complete panic,″ said Shahzad Zulfikar, an area resident reached by telephone. ``It’s cold here, but still people are afraid to go home. I have never felt such a violent shaking.″

The quake was centered 70 miles east-southeast of the provincial capital of Quetta, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., but the hardest hit region was the remote Sibi district. The initial quake was followed by a magnitude-6.3 aftershock 23 minutes later.

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

Rescue workers sent in by air ambulance by the Ehdi Trust, Pakistan’s only private emergency relief organization, said at least 80 people had died in the quake. They said they expected the death toll to exceed 100.

Rescue efforts were hampered by the remoteness of the region, a vast plain where the population is scattered in 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, the deputy commission of Sibi.

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

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 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. 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.

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