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Pakistan Earthquake Kills at Least 20

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A predawn earthquake hit southwestern Pakistan on Thursday as most residents slept, leaving at least 20 people dead and damaging hundreds of residential and office buildings, officials said.

The 5.9-magnitude quake, which struck after 3 a.m. local time, inflicted heavy damage on the city of Harnai, in southwestern Balochistan Province. After dozens of houses collapsed, hundreds of people were left injured and homeless.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake had a depth of about 5.6 miles, which is considered very shallow and potentially more dangerous because it is closer to the surface. The center of the earthquake was about 60 miles from Quetta, the provincial capital that is near the Afghan border. It is where, in 1935, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck, killing up to 60,000 people.

Disaster officials said the death toll from the quake on Thursday was expected to rise. The Pakistani military said its troops had reached the area to help with rescue operations. “Army doctors and paramedics, along with necessary medicines, are assisting civil administration for necessary medical care,” the military’s news media wing said in a statement.

Video footage showed injured people being treated by the light of mobile phones while lying on stretchers in the street. At least nine critically injured people were evacuated by helicopter to Quetta for treatment.

Local television networks broadcast images of dazed young children and women, covered in dirt and receiving medical treatment from health and rescue officials. Most of the district has mud houses, which could not withstand the jolts of the earthquake. Schools were closed and the authorities made announcements through loudspeakers, urging residents to take safety precautions, the news media reported.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had ordered an assessment of the damage and urged the authorities to provide immediate relief to the victims.

A state of emergency was imposed at Civil Hospital in Quetta, where officials issued a call to all medical personnel for help.

Adeel Ahmed, an official with the provincial Home Ministry, said in a telephone interview from Quetta that relief efforts were underway but that some mountainous areas in the district were still inaccessible. “Efforts are being made to reach the people trapped in the far-off mountains,” he said. The main roads leading to the district that had been blocked because of landslides had been cleared, he said.

Officials said the coronavirus pandemic did not affect the relief efforts. Mr. Ahmed said no virus cases had been reported so far from the Harnai district, adding that residents there did not take the pandemic seriously.

Pakistan lies in an area noted for high seismic activity. In 2019, an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale rocked several cities in northern Pakistan and parts of the Kashmir region under its control, leaving at least 22 people dead and more than 700 wounded. In 2013, a quake with a magnitude of 7.7 struck a remote area of western Pakistan, killing at least 80. A 6.5-magnitude earthquake jolted parts of the southwest in 2008, leaving at least 150 people dead and hundreds more injured.

One of the most devastating quakes in the country’s history was a 7.8-magnitude temblor in 2005 that struck the disputed Kashmir region and rattled parts of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. It killed more than 87,000, injured about 38,000 others and destroyed thousands of buildings, including schools and hospitals. Nearly four million people were left homeless.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Azi Paybarah from Seoul, South Korea.

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