has dispatched aircraft, road-clearing teams and rescuers to some of the country’s most isolated valleys in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that has killed at least 339 people in the region and injured an estimated 2,000 more.
A surveillance flight was sent to assess damage caused by the in neighbouring Afghanistan, while a C-130 transport plane loaded with rations, ready meals, tents and blankets was dispatched to Chitral, a far-flung former princely state that was especially badly hit.
The prolonged tremors were some of the worst the region has experienced in recent years and were felt hundreds of miles from the epicentre in Jurm, north-east .
By mid-morning the Pakistani army said its Frontier Works Organisation had cleared 27 of 45 landslides that had blocked the Karakoram highway, the strategically valued road link to China that winds through some of the world’s most forbidding mountain terrain.
Small aftershocks that continued to shake the region have not done any further damage, but schools in the city of Rawalpindi were kept shut as a precautionary measure.
Pakistan’s powerful army has taken a lead role in responding to the crisis, with extra resources pushed out to its various hospitals in the affected region.
Pakistan has insisted it does not require international assistance to cope with a disaster that caused a fraction of the damage of the devastating that and displaced millions more. Seismologists say catastrophe was averted this time because the hypocentre – or4 focus – of the quake was deep underground.
The rescue work will nonetheless be a challenge, with civilian officials warning the rapidly as teams reach isolated areas, many of which were cut off by landslides and the failure of mobile phone networks.
Inayatullah Khan, the minister for local government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the worst affected of Pakistan’s provinces, said he was receiving “bad news” from Upper Chitral, Dir and Shangla.
“The district officers in those areas have informed me there were many villages and buildings that got totally destroyed,” he said. “We are trying our best to utilise every facility we have and already have sent mobile ambulances carrying every facility of a hospital towards Upper Dir.”
Anwar ul Haq, from Upper Dir, lost three of his children when the roof of his house collapsed, while his wife and two other children were injured.
“I was outside when I felt the tremor but was not even a second to get my children from inside as it was just a strong jolt,” he said. “It took a few second for the earthquake to destroy my whole world.”
People living in Chitral town - the closest Pakistani town to the quake epicentre – reported relatively light damage.
Qaid-e-Azam, a member of the ancient community of pagans of the Kalash valleys, said the situation was under control. “Some of the roads are blocked but the phones are working and people are reporting only minor damage to some of the houses,” said Azam, who manages a hotel in Chitral town.
Many areas had already been deluged by two days of unseasonably heavy rain and snowfall, helping to loosen the ground and trap tourists who had been visiting the beauty spots of the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan over the weekend.
For Afghanistan, the challenge of mounting rescue operations will be made harder given the country’s relative lack of resources, difficult terrain and the presence of Taliban insurgents in some of the areas affected.
Afghan officials said at least 78 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from about half a dozen of the country’s 34 provinces. The Kabul government has called for international aid agencies to send help.
The Taliban on Tuesday promised to help aid organisations. “The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] calls on … charitable organisations to not hold back in providing shelter, food and medical supplies to the victims of this earthquake,” the group said on its website. “It similarly orders its mujahideen in the affected areas to lend their complete help to the victims and facilitate those giving charity to the needy.”
Straddling an active continental plate boundary, the region is often hit by earthquakes. In September 2013, a struck Balochistan province in Pakistan, killing about 800 people.