Quake wipes out nearly entire Pakistani town near Iranian border

Zar Bibi's 7-year-old son was napping when a massive earthquake demolished this small Pakistani town earlier this week near the Iranian border. The mud walls of the family's home were no match for the tremor that destroyed the house and, within seconds, buried the sleeping boy in rubble.

"I called for his father and his elder brother," Bibi, a resident of Mashkel, said Thursday. "They came with the relatives and removed the debris and pulled his body from the debris."

The boy, Abdul Salam, was one of 35 people killed in Pakistan when the magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Tuesday on the Iranian side of the border. Authorities fear the death toll could rise once rescuers reach other villages and towns in this desolate area far removed from government infrastructure and aid.

Mashkel and its roughly 20,000 inhabitants bore the brunt of the earthquake that shook buildings across Pakistan and the Gulf region. The remoteness of the town has made delivering aid a challenge. Mashkel is closer to Iran, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, than it is to the Pakistani provincial capital of Quetta.

During a trip to Mashkel on Thursday, which the Pakistani military arranged for the media, many residents complained to reporters that help has been slow to arrive.

Bibi said she and her husband and remaining two sons have been sleeping outdoors because their house was totally destroyed and they had no tent.

"We are sleeping on this open ground, this open sky," she said. "We are just waiting for assistance from the government. No one has come here to check on our condition."

Roughly 1,000 of the 1,200 homes in Mashkel were demolished in the quake, said Col. Saqiv Elahi of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which has a base in the town and has been providing some aid to residents. Elahi said many of the houses that did not collapse have dangerous cracks in the walls and roofs that make them uninhabitable.

He said they had about 300 tents for residents, but that 700 more were needed.

Elahi said 35 people in Pakistan died in the earthquake but cautioned that the death toll could rise because authorities have yet to reach some of the even more remote villages affected by the quake.

Many of the people in this area hold both Pakistani and Iranian citizenship, and some might have taken their injured relatives to Iranian hospitals on the other side of the border, he said.

The Pakistani military has evacuated 23 injured quake victims to Quetta and Dalbandin, another city in Baluchistan province. The military also has sent food, medicine, blankets and tents, the military said in a statement Thursday. They've also set up a field hospital and dispatched 550 troops to assist.

Still, many residents complained that prices at the local shops had shot up in the days after the quake and that there was a shortage of drinking water. Tankers usually bring in drinking water because their local well is salty, but the water tanks were damaged by the earthquake.

"We have no money to construct the tank or buy the water," said Ali Ahmed Raiki, another local resident. "We are compelled to use this salty water,"

In comparison to the devastation in Mashkel, the Iranian government has reported only one person killed and 12 injured on its side of the border. Iran's state-run Press TV initially reported a much higher death toll in Iran, saying 40 people had been killed, but later backed away from that figure.

Iran lies on seismic fault lines and experiences one slight quake a day on average.

On Thursday afternoon, a moderate, magnitude-5.2 earthquake rattled the town of Tasooj, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran., Iran's state TV said. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that it was a magnitude-4.8 quake. There were no immediate reports about any damage or casualties.

Last week, a magnitude-6.1 quake struck another part of southern Iran, killing 37 people and injuring hundreds.