Natural events are queuing up to provide the region with hard times. Unusual cold and precipitation in northern Pakistan has led to tourists being stranded and requiring rescue, and on October 26 at around 2.10pm, there was an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 that struck in Afghanistan, hitting a remote area 82kms southeast of Fayzabad, deep in the Hindu Kush range. The quake was deep — 192km — and consequently felt over a wide area reaching as far south as Bahawalpur in Punjab and very strongly felt across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the capital territories as well as in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Early reports are fragmentary and giving exact details as to the number of casualties and the damage done to infrastructure and buildings across the country will be premature at this stage, although numerous deaths have been reported in Swat, Kasur, Sargodha and Bajaur Agency.
All military hospitals have been put on high alert and the Pakistan Army has assembled a rescue team to conduct an early damage assessment. The TV channels — one of which remained on air during the quake and the anchor continued to broadcast from a very shaky set — carried pictures of people evacuated from offices and other workplaces in Islamabad and Lahore and early indications are that emergency services are mobilised, have not been significantly damaged and are going to be able to respond to the calamity. Although it is too early to say with certainty, there does not appear to have been the kind of widespread catastrophic damage that was seen during the 2005 earthquake. Even so, many millions of people have had a very severe fright in Pakistan and there will be a rise in casualties here, as well as in Afghanistan and India. Remote areas such as the Kaghan valley are reporting that houses have collapsed but it is going to be at least 24 hours before a preliminary assessment is made. This was the largest quake to hit the country since the aforementioned quake of 2005, and the early impressions are that the country is both better prepared and more capable in terms of response. Pakistan is always going to be vulnerable to earthquake and the best that can be done is to be prepared — always.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2015.
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