The death toll from Pakistan’s earthquake has risen past 350, as tens of thousands of survivors wait in searing heat for government aid.
More than 100,000 people made homeless by Tuesday’s 7.7-magnitude quake spent a second night in the open or under makeshift shelters overnight, as response teams struggled to reach the remote region in the southwestern province of Balochistan.
At least 359 people were killed in Awaran and Kech districts, while another 765 were left injured, a Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) official told Al Jazeera.
Official sources, however, told Al Jazeera that the number of dead was higher than 500.
The PDMA said 313 people died in Awaran district, where the quake struck, and 46 were killed in neighbouring Kech district.
The population of Awaran is scattered over more than 21,000 square kilometres of remote and rugged terrain, where infrastructure is limited, with few medical facilities or even roads.
Conditions are desperate among the survivors and many are going without food, water and shelter, having lost everything in the quake, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder reported from Awaran district.
Doctors in the village treated some of the injured, but because of a scarcity of medicine and staff, they were mostly seen comforting residents.
“We need more tents, more medicine and more food,” said a spokesman for the provincial government, Jan Mohammad Bulaidi.
Bulaidi told Al Jazeera that more than 2,000 tents and food packages had reached the affected areas so far.
“We have reached the Awaran headquarters and many of the affected areas are very far away. As you can imagine, we have a many issues in getting aid to those areas,” he said. “There is also the danger of militancy in these areas.”
Aid helicopter attacked
The area is home to Baloch separatist rebels waging a decades-long armed movement against the state.
The government is completely missing and we have not received a single relief item like tents or food
Highlighting the danger from rebels, a helicopter carrying the National Disaster Management Authority Chief Major-General Alam Saeed came under rocket fire in Awaran, though no damage was done and no one was hurt.
Hours later paramilitary troops helping the relief effort were fired at with small arms by suspected rebels, around 20km north of Awaran, but there were no casualties, a senior security official told AFP.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Awaran on Friday, said that the military was leading aid efforts, but was being forced to travel “in full combat gear”, because of the threat of attack from Baloch separatist groups.
The Pakistani military said it had rushed almost 1,000 troops to the area overnight and was sending helicopters as well. A convoy of 60 Pakistani army trucks left the southern port city of Karachi early on Wednesday with supplies.
The government was preparing to send more than 14,000 tents, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said, and was using a plane to reach difficult areas.
The quake is Pakistan’s deadliest since the Kashmir tremor of 2005 which killed 73,000. The toll is expected to rise further as rescue teams dig through the rubble of countless flattened mud-brick homes.
Nisar told parliament “huge activity” was under way to help those affected, but he said teams were struggling to reach some areas, even 40 hours after the quake.
“Here distance is not measured in the kilometres, but more in the hours it takes to travel those kilometres,” reported Al Jazeera’s Hyder.
In Awaran town, about 200 survivors demonstrated outside government offices, as they complained they had not been given food or shelter.
Survivors in Gajjar, about 120km east of Awaran, where the quake killed at least 108 people, said they had scavenged for food and complained of a lack of government aid.
“The government is completely missing and we have not received a single relief item like tents or food,” survivor Abdul Razzaq said.
“We don’t even have tents to cover my kids,” said Haji Wajd Ali, who lives in the village of Labach, where every other house was destroyed. “There are no shops. There is no food. There is no water,” he said as temperatures reached 38 degrees Celsius during the day.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, but also its least densely populated and poorest region. Separatists, who have increasing popular support, say the central government in Islamabad exploits Balochistan’s natural resources and does not reinvest in the province’s infrastructure.