Hundreds dead in Pakistan earthquake

ISLAMABAD - A powerful earthquake has killed at least 238 people in Pakistan's remote south-west province of Balochistan.

The 7.7-magnitude quake struck on Tuesday afternoon at a depth of 20km (13 miles) north-east of Awaran, the US Geological Survey said.

Many houses were flattened and thousands of people have spent the night in the open.

After the quake, a small island appeared off the coast near the port of Gwadar, witnesses reported.

People gathered on the beach to see the new island, which is about 9m (30ft) high and 100m long, Gwadar Police Chief Pervez Umrani said.

Balochistan is Pakistan's largest but least populated province.

The region is prone to earthquakes, with at least 35 people killed in a 7.8-magnitude tremor that was centred in south-eastern Iran in April.

The latest quake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Karachi, Hyderabad, and India's capital, Delhi.

Entire villages are reported to have been flattened in the impoverished and sparsely-populated district of Awaran.

Balochistan government spokesman Jan Buledi put the death toll at 238, more than 200 of the fatalities in Awaran town and the surrounding villages. He has warned that it could rise. At least 340 people have been injured.

"We are seriously lacking medical facilities and there is no space to treat injured people in the local hospitals," Mr Buledi said.

He said helicopters were airlifting the most seriously injured to Karachi while others were being cared for in neighbouring districts.

The army has sent more than 200 soldiers, medical teams and tents from the regional capital Quetta, but the mountainous terrain is said to be hampering the rescue operation.

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