10/8/2005 Kashmir Quake

Updated 10/29/2005

The strongest earthquake to hit Pakistan in over a century hit in the middle of the morning on Saturday October 8 at 8:50 AM local time (03:50 UTC). With a magnitude of 7.6, it caused extensive damage and thousands of casualties throughout Kashmir. The epicenter was near the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir, Muzaffarabad.

Death tolls have been estimated at over 79,000, with thousands more injured and, according to the UN, 3 million in need of shelter. Many villages and towns have been reduced to rubble. At least 400 children were killed when two schools collapsed. Whole families have been wiped out. An upscale apartment building in Islamabad, 60 miles away collapsed. With over a dozen aftershocks of at least Magnitude 5.5 in the first week after the quake, many were afraid to sleep inside, despite the bad weather. People have been arriving in the cities, having walked from their mountain villages where they say no aid had arrived after days of waiting.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told the BBC that Pakistan needed "massive cargo helicopter support" and aid supplies. Aid has been offered from many countries. The US has offered helicopters, which are in need because rescue vehicles can't reach many areas because landslides have blocked roads. People were digging through the rubble by hand in heavy rain to try to find survivors. Ten days after the quake the Pakistani government said they had reached most, but not all the areas affected. However, they estimate that 20% of the affected area hadn't receives any shelter or supplies. Even 3 weeks afterwards, the World Food Programme estimates that 500,000 people haven't received any aid at all. The international community has provided 90 helicopters to help get supplies to remote areas and evacuate the wounded. Thousands of injured are still waiting for help in inaccessible areas. Helicopters cannot reach all of them due to high altitude, rugged terrain and bad weather. For many people, the only reliable way to get injured people out or supplies in, is on foot or mule. 30 field hospitals have been established but serious cases need to reach a major hospital in a city and that is still difficult. There are fears that people could develop gangrene due to lack of attention and that disease could spread due to lack of clean water and sanitary facilities.

An international donors conference pledged over $500 million dollars in aid, but only about 20% has been delivered so far. Meanwhile the UN is running out of funds for their efforts and will have to scale back if more money is not made available. The most serious problem, after the immediate rescue efforts, is lack of shelter. Many families are trying to stay on their land, but with the oncoming Himalayan winter, lack of adequate housing is a major problem.

Private charities who depend on individual contributions have noted a reduced level of giving from the United States, following the massive outpouring of donations for Hurricane Katrina victims last month and the tsunami last year. However, contributions and volunteers in India and Pakistan have been very substantial. In the Indian administered areas some of the first to respond were Kashmiri independence groups. Throughout the region, people have turned out to do whatever they can, even before the government has been able to reach many areas. Heavy rains have hampered relief efforts. Also hampering efforts has been a lack of coordination and organization of the relief. Mountain roads are being clogged by trucks bringing in supplies, making it difficult to evacuate the wounded. In some cases, roads that survived the quake, or had been repaired, are damaged by the heavy traffic.

One organization, Working Assets, is urging contributions specifically to rebuild schools, especially for girls, that were damaged. From their website: "One of the most heart-wrenching stories emerging from this catastrophe is that of the girls' school in the village of Ghari Habibibullah, Pakistan. There, 250 students were killed, more than 500 injured, and the school was completely demolished. Similar catastrophes happened in villages all over the region, such as Balakot. Girls' schools were often beacons of hope and implicit progress in a region dominated by fundamentalist Islam, and rebuilding these schools is likely to be at the bottom of the political agenda. So Working Assets has launched a campaign to support rebuilding girls' schools in Pakistan and India -- and we're asking for your help."

Most of the casualties have been in the Pakistani administered areas, but almost1400 have also died in Indian administered Kashmir. 5,000 were injured and 140,000 homeless. The Prime Minister and Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi, toured the area soon after the quake, but there have been complaints that aid was slow in coming.

The USGS reports : "Earthquakes and active faults in northern Pakistan and adjacent parts of India and Afghanistan are the direct result of the Indian subcontinent moving northward at a rate of about 40 mm/yr (1.6 inches/yr) and colliding with the Eurasian continent. This collision is causing uplift that produces the highest mountain peaks in the world including the Himalayan, the Karakoram, the Pamir and the Hindu Kush ranges. As the Indian plate moves northward, it is being subducted or pushed beneath the Eurasian plate. Much of the compressional motion between these two colliding plates has been and continues to be accommodated by slip on a suite of major thrust faults that are at the Earth�s surface in the foothills of the mountains and dip northward beneath the ranges. These include the Main Frontal thrust, the Main Central thrust, the Main boundary thrust, and the Main Mantle thrust. These thrust faults have a sinuous trace as they arc across the foothills in northern India and into northern Pakistan. In detail, the modern active faults are actually a system of faults comprised of a number of individual fault traces. In the rugged mountainous terrain, it is difficult to identify and map all of the individual thrust faults, but the overall tectonic style of the modern deformation is clear in the area of the earthquake; north- and northeast-directed compression is producing thrust faulting. Near the town of Muzaffarabad, about 10 km southwest of the earthquake epicenter, active thrust faults that strike northwest-southeast have deformed and warped Pleistocene alluvial-fan surfaces into anticlinal ridges. The strike and dip direction of these thrust faults is compatible with the style of faulting indicated by the focal mechanism from the nearby M 7.6 earthquake. "

(See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.) The US Geological Survey (USGS) is an invaluable resource in understanding and tracking earthquakes.

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