Updated: 12:04 P.M.
The death toll in Tuesday’s earthquake in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province has risen sharply overnight to 285, according to officials from the Baluchistan provincial government and the Pakistani army. Hundreds are injured, and casualty figures may rise further yet, officials warn.
The earthquake, measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale, was felt in areas as distant as the Swat Valley to the north and even across the border in the Indian capital of New Delhi. The epicenter was the remote Awaran area and its adjoining districts.
“An enormous number of houses have collapsed,” Jam Kamal Khan, the local parliamentarian and Deputy Minister for Petroleum, tells TIME. “The people are very worried. The devastation is very severe.”
The bulk of the deaths were from mud houses collapsing on their inhabitants. Graves are being dug for the victims ahead of funeral prayers today.
Rescue teams are having difficulty accessing the area because of its remoteness. This also means the scale of the damage and loss of life are still not fully apparent.
“It’s a totally mountainous area,” says Khan. “It’s very far-flung and underdeveloped. Close to nowhere, basically. There are very few roads, and some areas are not accessible by road.”
The Pakistan army has dispatched at least 300 more troops, from the Khuzdar area of Baluchistan and from the city of Karachi, to help the locally based Frontier Corps paramilitaries with the rescue effort.
“Last night, we dispatched two helicopters from Quetta to access the remote areas,” Major General Asim Bajwa, the Pakistan military’s spokesman, tells TIME. “They will work now in the day, and more helicopters will be sent.”
Baluchistan is especially vulnerable to earthquakes, being the most active seismic region in Pakistan. Three tectonic plates converge there. In 1935 and ’45, two devastating earthquakes — also around 8 on the Richter scale — claimed tens of thousands of lives in the region. In 2008, an earthquake struck Baluchistan’s Ziarat district, killing over 200 people and rendering 120,000 homeless.
The force of Tuesday’s earthquake caused an island to emerge in waters off the coastal city of Gwadar after the tremors subsided. The new island, Pakistani oceanographers said, is 200 m long, 20 m high and 100 m wide.
For Pakistanis, the earthquake is a second national tragedy in a matter of days. The country is still mourning the deaths of over 100 Christians killed in a bombing at a historic church in Peshawar on Sunday. Wednesday marks the third day of mourning for the beleaguered religious minority, who were targeted by two suicide bombers moments after a service, sparking protests and a fierce national debate about how Pakistan’s new government will tackle domestic terrorism.