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5.8 quake hits AJK, Punjab, KP; takes 25 lives in Mirpur

MIRPUR, Sept 24 (WNP): A 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Tuesday, leaving at least 25 persons, including women and children, dead and around 400 others injured, many of them seriously, officials said.

Occurring at about 4pm, the shallow quake hit 22.3 kilometres north of Jhelum, along the boundary separating the agricultural heartland of Punjab and AJK, according to the US Geological Survey. A soldier is among the dead.

“The quake was 10km deep and felt in most of Punjab and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, the worst hit was Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir,” chief meteorologist Mohammad Riaz was quoted by TV channels as saying.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal said the situation was under control and rescue operation was under way.

Mohammad Tayyab, Mirpur Divisional Commissioner, told media that since the epicentre of the earthquake was within the AJK territory, on the left bank of the River Jhelum, it had played havoc between Jatlan and Khari Sharif, damaging hundreds of houses, vehicles and other infrastructure, in addition to causing physical losses.

He said as many as 12 persons had died either on way to or at the Divisional Head­quarters Hospital, Mirpur, while around 13 had lost their lives in different villages between Jatlan and Khari Sharif within the jurisdiction of Afzalpur and Mangla police stations.

Of the injured persons, 150 were retained at the DHQ Hospital, five shifted to CMH Mangla and as many to CMH Rawalpindi. The rest had been sent home after necessary treatment, he said.

The cellular phone service and electricity supply in rural areas had been suspended due to which people were unable to contact their near and dear ones immediately.

In Mirpur city, people said they were caught off guard by the unexpected calamity.

“I was in my house when it started trembling […] The ceiling developed cracks and the items on shelves started falling down,” said Waheed Hameed Butt, a resident of F-1 Sector in Mirpur.

“We rushed outside and were joined by almost everyone from the entire neighbourhood. Children were crying and elders were reciting kalima. I have never experienced such a harrowing earthquake in this area,” said the 40-year-old father of three.

In Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST), located along Chowk-i-Shaheedan, an eighth semester student from Gilgit-Baltistan, identified as Hameedullah, got so much panicked that he jumped from the second floor of building and was seriously injured. He died on way to hospital, Butt said.

Chaudhry Mohammad Saeed, AJK Minister for Sports, Youth and Culture, who represents Mirpur city in the AJK legislature, told that a state of emergency had been declared in all public and private hospitals of the town.

Tayyab said the quake had also caused breaches in Upper Jhelum canal at different points from where water had spilled over to adjacent areas. However, 95 per cent of the canal water was diverted to River Jhelum, he said.

Two bridges over the canal had been badly damaged, he said, adding that the road running parallel to the canal had either sunk or developed wide cracks.

Pictures and visuals shared by residents showed the quake had left several vehicles either toppled or damaged by the debris of fallen boundary walls.

Tayyab said the civilian administration was being assisted by army teams in rescue operation as well as treatment of the injured.

Within an hour of the tragedy, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet that the army chief had directed immediate rescue operation in aid of civil administration for the victims of the earthquake in AJK. Army troops with aviation and medical support teams [had been] dispatched, he added.

Later, in a brief statement, the ISPR said the army aviation helicopters had completed aerial survey for damage assessment in Mirpur, Jhari Kas and Jatlan areas. “The army teams have reached the affected areas and rescue efforts have been initiated,” the statement added.

“The situation is calm and under control. Rescue teams are moving from village to village to assess losses as well as needs of the survivors,” Tayyab said.

In a most immediate alert, the NDMA warned against likely chances of aftershocks in the next 24 hours and asked all regional disaster management bodies to take all necessary precautionary measures to avoid any [further] loss of lives and damage to public and private property.

Dr Mirza Shahid Baig, a former head of the AJK University’s geology department, said New Mirpur (affected area) was situated on the Samwal-Jharik Kass active fault line which had multiple earthquake history.

“Earlier the fault line was activated during the 2005 earthquake with infrastructure damages and today it has been reactivated with 5.9-magnitude earthquake,” he said.

“The aftershocks are going to occur within next 3-4 months because the New Mirpur area lies in the active sub-Himalayan mountain belt,” he said, asking the people and administration in the area to remain prepared for any eventuality.

AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, who was in Lahore since Monday to attend some Kashmir-related events, cut short his visit and reached Mirpur “to supervise rescue, relief and rehabilitation services,” his office said in a statement.

The prime minister visited the DHQ Hospital and took a briefing from the divisional and district administration on the impact of losses and rescue and relief operation.

It’s the second major earthquake to have hit AJK in two decades. Earlier in 2005, more than 46,000 people were killed in northern districts of AJK, mainly Muzaffarabad, after being hit by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake. The overall deaths were more than 73,000 as parts of neighbouring KP province were also hit by that earthquake. However, southern AJK districts, including Kotli, Mirpur and Bhimber, had remained unaffected by the 2005 earthquake.

In October 2015, a young boy was killed and his sibling and another boy were injured in Islamgarh town of Mirpur after the boundary wall of a house had fallen on them due to an earthquake.

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