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Originally published September 24, 2013 at 10:01 PM | Page modified September 25, 2013 at 5:53 AM

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Hundreds die in Pakistan quake, 'island' formed

Tuesday’s 7.7 magnitude quake killed 208 people in Awaran district of Baluchistan province, which was the epicenter.

Seattle Times news services

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ISLAMABAD — The death toll from a powerful 7.7 magnitude earthquake that struck southwestern Pakistan climbed to 216, officials said Wednesday.

Tuesday’s quake killed 208 people in Awaran district of Baluchistan province, which was the epicenter.

At least eight people were killed in neighboring Turbat district, said Jan Muhammed Buledi, provincial government spokesman.

Given the remote terrain, officials were bracing for a higher death toll.

The United States Geological Survey issued a “red” alert, which means that fatalities could exceed 1,000 and damages could cost more than $1 billion.

While the earthquake resulted in loss of lives and property, it also gave rise to an unusual geographical occurrence.

A small, rocky island was apparently created half a mile into the Arabian Sea off the coast of Gwadar, the port Pakistan has built with the help of China, local news media reported.

Moazam Jah, a senior police officer in Gwadar, told Geo TV, a private news network, that the island appeared to be 100 feet wide and 40 feet in altitude.

It surprised people in the coastal town, and a large number of people gathered at the coastline to witness the spectacle.

Locals were reported as saying a similar island was pushed up around 60 years ago but over time sank back into the waters.

Initial rescue efforts were focused on Khuzdar and Awaran districts in the west of the province, where most of the fatalities were thought to have occurred after hundreds of mud-walled homes collapsed.

A Pakistani military spokesman said the army had deployed 200 soldiers for immediate rescue and relief efforts.

The logistics will probably be challenging. Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest province but also the most sparsely populated, with sprawling deserts and little infrastructure.

The earthquake was felt across Pakistan when it struck at 4:29 p.m. local time.

Tremors lasting as long as a minute caused panic, with reports of people rushing out of their offices and homes in Karachi, the country’s largest city, several hundred miles from the epicenter, as well as in other parts of Sindh and Baluchistan provinces.

Shaking was also felt as far away as the Indian capital of New Delhi, several hundred miles to the east.

Television footage showed collapsed houses, caved-in roofs and people sitting in the open air outside their homes, with mud and bricks scattered nearby.

Other video showed furniture and other items moving inside homes during the quake.

Baluchistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik declared an emergency in Awaran, approximately eight hours’ drive from Quetta, the provincial capital. Awaran has an estimated population of 300,000 people.

Baluchistan province is frequently hit by earthquakes and wracked by both drought and flooding, but many of its deepest challenges are man-made.

The Pakistani military and intelligence services have waged a campaign to crush a nationalist insurgency there for years, much of the Afghan Taliban leadership shelters there, and the province’s large Shiite minority has frequently faced lethal attacks by sectarian militant groups.

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