(Children walk past damaged houses Kashmir after massive earthquake hit the area – Photo: Bilal Bahadur)
Screams follow huge quake as Kashmir counts scores of dead
By: Izhar Wani
Screams and wails of mourning filled the air as panicked residents ran for their lives when a massive earthquake hit Indian Kashmir Saturday, killing or wounding hundreds.
In the summer capital Srinagar, people fled their homes, shops and offices fearing they would be buried under heaps of rubble.
Men spontaneously started reading out verses from the Koran, the Muslim holy book, as the ground shook for more than a minute, while women beat their chests in the streets in a traditional display of bereavement. “This is the strongest earthquake I have ever witnessed in my life,” said 84-year-old Srinagar resident Aisha Begum.
At least 157 civilians and 21 soldiers perished across the northern state, government chief secretary Vijay Bakya told AFP, including eight-month-old Muslim boy Musa Zargar who died when a wall of his house collapsed on him in Srinagar, residents said.
The baby’s mother was among 500 people authorities reported hospitalised for injuries and shock after the quake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale. Bakya warned that the toll could climb much higher as reports arrived from isolated areas.
A fresh tremor rattled residents and buildings for several seconds at about 4:15 pm, sparking renewed panic. “There were fresh screams and people shouted ‘Help oh Allah,” housewife Arhsi Amin told AFP, adding that everyone in the quarter rushed outside, some shouting Islamic verses.
Along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, frontier bunkers collapsed on troops, some forward posts caved in and others were hit by falling trees and landslides. “There can be more casualties,” army spokesman Major P. Sehgal told AFP.
Thousands of army soldiers man the LoC to prevent Muslim rebels from entering Indian Kashmir from the Pakistani zone of the divided state. The military spokesman said more than 100 people were being treated at an army hospital in northern Uri town, 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Srinagar, where 200 houses were damaged and people were sifting through the rubble for the missing.
Local resident Abdul Aziz said telephone and power lines were down. “The tremors have also caused landslides blocking the main highway between Srinagar and Uri,” he said, adding that the slides made it hard to bring the injured to hospitals in Srinagar.
Bakya said neighbouring Tangdar sector was also badly hit.
An AFP photographer saw some half-a-dozen houses badly damaged by the tremors in northern Baramulla town where ambulances were ferrying the injured to hospital.
In Sopore town, also in the north of Kashmir, at least a dozen injured people were treated in hospital, another AFP photographer reported. Some said they had been hurt jumping out of their homes.
Authorities were still scrambling to assess the damage and count the casualties from the quake and aftershocks felt from New Delhi to Kabul, but centred nearly 100 kilometres north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
The quake struck around 9:25 am (0355 GMT) in Indian Kashmir and two more mild tremors were felt around 9:35 and 9:55 am across the state. India’s National Disaster Management Division said Kashmir had been worst hit but all of northern India felt the tremors.
In Chandigarh, Punjab state, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke at a ruling Congress Party conclave shortly before the quake sent party leaders scurrying outside, the Press Trust of India said.
His office announced that families of the dead would receive 100,000 rupees each (2,255 dollars) from a national relief fund.
“The Prime Minister has assured all possible Central support and assistance in the relief and rehabilitation effort,” Singh’s spokesman Sanjaya Baru said.