Pakistan quake death toll rises to nearly 300

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- In the wake of a massive earthquake in southwestern Pakistan, the death toll Wednesday rose sharply to nearly 300, officials and local media said.

Crisis teams braced for more fatalities and rescue workers raced to reach isolated mountain communities.

Local television images from the southwestern area of earthquake-prone Baluchistan showed the tangled remains of people’s lives after the disaster -- vast fields of mud, bricks, broken furniture, battered household items and traditional string beds. Most houses in the region bordering Iran are poorly constructed of basic materials.

In one video, a dazed man pawed through debris to collect a few meager possessions from his destroyed home.

The epicenter of the magnitude 7.7 earthquake, which struck at around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, was 40 miles northeast of Awaran. Initial reports placed the magnitude at 7.8.

As often follows when natural disasters hit relatively inaccessible areas, damage reports trickled in slowly, making it initially difficult to get a comprehensive picture of the damage.

In Baluchistan’s Awaran district, among the worst-hit communities, a state of emergency was declared Tuesday. Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest but least-populated province, with about 13 million people.

By Wednesday afternoon, the confirmed death toll in Awaran was 216 with approximately 400 people injured, according to an official with Baluchistan’s home secretariat, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

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