"Announcements were made in church for the collection of essential commodities for the quake victims. After visiting the affected families for a few hours, we handed over packets of lentils, tea and sugar," said Priest Maqsood Nazir of St. Pius Church in the provincial capital Quetta, some 1,500 kilometers southwest of Islamabad.
He said this was the first aid response from the Catholic Church following the October 29 earthquake, which killed at least 300 people and left 40,000 others homeless, including minority Christians.
The priest led a group of seven parishioners who traveled overnight to reach Wam, one of the worst-hit villages. "It was a dangerous journey on narrow and winding roads in the mountains," he recalled. "Village children started following our vehicle as we came close to the rubble of mud houses." Catholics were also planning to hold a special Mass Wednesday, November 5, dedicated to earth quake victims.
The epicenter of the 6.4-magnitude quake is an area northeast of Quetta, experts said. Among the deaths were women and children, buried beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings, witnesses said. Christian and other aid workers said dozens of people were still trapped under the debris, and warned the death toll could rise.
Most of the damage was seen in the district of Ziarat, but other cities and villages have been seriously damaged, officials said. "Hundreds of mud houses have collapsed," said Ziarat District Chief Dilawar Khan. "We are using whatever resources we have to help the people and have asked for help from the provincial government."
There has been concerns in previous disasters that minority Christians were in several cases cut off from aid. All Pakistan Minority Alliance, (APMA) a Christian political party, said it has set up two centers in Quetta to endure distribution of aid to Christian and other families.
Raffarty George, the party president in Balochistan and a Catholic, told BosNewsLife the alliance so far collected clothes, food items and some money. "We plan to take at least one relief truck this month to the affected areas in the northeast of the province," George said. He said APMA is already supporting Christian families, including Quetta residents "whose houses were partially damaged by the aftershocks, which continued for the next few days."
However aftershocks make it difficult to provide aid, said Kashif Daud, an official of Caritas Pakistan Quetta, the local Catholic Church’s social-service agency. "I was talking with local people, finalizing plans for the relief distribution, when the second tremor struck in the evening. The mountains roared right in front of me, and by the time the vibrations reached us we were all terrified to death."
Sallah-ud-din Khan, a Muslim, told BosNewsLife, his wife lost her leg while saving their children from their collapsing mud house. "We were sleeping when suddenly the earth shook. My wife and I were trying to take our four children out of the house. The house collapsed during our efforts and rubble fell on her," he recalled.
The recent disaster came shortly after the third anniversary of a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in northwest Pakistan and Kashmir that killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million in October 2005. Quetta was devastated in 1935 by a 7.5-magnitude tremor that killed about 30,000 people.
Christians form a tiny community in Balochistan, where Muslims, as they do around the country, form close to 98 percent of the people. There are nearly 29,000 Catholics among the provincial population of at least eight million, according to Catholic estimates.