A new island appeared off Pakistan after a deadly 7.7-magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon in Baluchistan province’s Awaran district — a dirt-poor expanse of land that is roughly the size of Wales.
“The island, which is up to 100 feet high and 200 feet wide, surfaced after the earthquake hit parts of Baluchistan,” senior local administration official Tufail Baluch told AFP. Later reports pegged the size of the island closer to 600 feet wide and 60 feet tall.
The official said a similar island had appeared at the same place in the sea about 60 years ago but disappeared after some time, meaning the current island is unlikely to last long.
That didn’t stop locals from hoping boats to explore the island, which is likely mainly mud and sand. Television channels showed images of the rocky terrain rising above the sea level, as well as a crowd of bewildered people gathering on the shore to witness the rare phenomenon.
The new island was created by the pressure of the earthquake, seismologist John Armbruster told NBC News, which led to the formation of a “mud volcano.” He said such mud formations are a known occurrence following strong earthquakes of magnitude of seven or eight.
The U.S. Geological Survey issued a red alert on Tuesday, warning that heavy casualties were likely based on past data, and the provincial government declared an emergency in Awaran.
“The number of dead from the earthquake has reached 208 now. The injured are over 382,” Asad Gilani, one of the province’s most senior administration officials, told AFP.
“The rescue teams are working to recover dead bodies and injured, but our priority is to shift injured to hospitals as soon as possible,” he said.
“There are not many doctors in the area but we are trying to provide maximum facilities in the affected areas,” Jan Muhammad Baledi, a spokesman for the Baluchistan government, said on the ARY news channel.
Television footage showed collapsed houses, caved-in roofs and people sitting in the open air outside their homes, the rubble of mud and bricks scattered around them.
In April a 7.8-magnitude quake in southeast Iran, close to the border with Baluchistan, killed 41 people and affected more than 12,000 on the Pakistan side of the border.
Iran’s Red Crescent reported no damage from the latest quake over the border from Pakistan.
Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, is believed to have substantial gas and oil reserves, but it is violent and unstable.
It is a flashpoint for growing violence against minority Shiite Muslims and has suffered attacks blamed on Taliban militants.
It also suffers from an ongoing separatist insurgency which began in 2004 when Baluch rebels rose up to demand a greater share of profits from the province’s mineral resources.