Some time before 10:20 PM tonight, February 12, 2021, I was in my trailer in the middle of Islamabad with my mother when we felt moderate shaking. We rushed out the door and a second after stepping outside, an even stronger tremor began and lasted for a few seconds. I never felt quaking as strong as this in Islamabad before. Now, the news reports are saying it was a widespread earthquake felt in various parts of Pakistan as well as surrounding countries of Tajikistan, China, Afghanistan, and India.
For now, I can only be sure of what I felt. It very much appears to be two earthquakes striking in rapid succession, which is not something I have heard of a lot. After the first shaking in the cabin broke out, I felt it die down so there was a clear gap with the second tremor. What could have happened therefore was an earthquake preceded seconds earlier by a foreshock. Foreshocks usually happen a long time before the bigger tremors they portend, including the mainshock which is the largest earthquake in a sequence.
Whether or not it is a mainshock, the earthquake I felt outside the cabin was powerful. I felt the ground move violently, though whether from side to side or up and down I am not sure, perhaps both, and a thunderous rumbling filled the air as a result of all the buildings around shaking. A commotion followed in the neighborhood as lights turned on and people rushed outside. Islamabad is believed to be far away from any active fault line. So it is assumed that any tremor felt in Islamabad came from far away. This means that if an earthquake is strong in Islamabad, it is likely much stronger closer to the epicenter.
This is worrying for me right now given the strength of what I felt. I immediately realized the impact is likely much worse to the west or north, in Pakistan’s vulnerable mountainous areas. These places are very earthquake-prone. Because this earthquake struck early at night, Pakistan’s ability to mount an immediate rescue and relief response and even to quickly assess the total impact is compromised. We need to keep ourselves glued to the news reports coming out right now.
Pakistan’s news agencies and geological agencies within and beyond are responding fast and what they have reported already is revealing major insights in what is seemingly an unusual seismic event. The epicenter of the earthquake is placed in Tajikistan. Its Richter magnitude is measured at 6.4 and depth at 80 kilometers. According to reports, the quake jolted Khyber-Paktunkwha, Gilgit-Balitistan, Azad Kashmir, and parts of Punjab. It was apparently very strong in Azad Kashmir, such as Bagh and Mirpur. It was felt in cities from Peshawar to Islamabad to Lahore to Multan. So too in Afghanistan, Xingjiang, and parts of northern India including Delhi.
Thee earthquake is so strong and widespread that a wave of solidarity and concern is sweeping Pakistan. Social media is abuzz when we are supposed to be going to bed. We hope it is not a severe disaster. That is the last thing we need at a time like this. We are already in a difficult time with the coronavirus pandemic. Imagine if an earthquake displaces people and forces them into crowded shelters or if the movement of aid workers spreads the virus. And we won’t be able to receive the level of international help that we did with the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that killed more than 70,000 Pakistanis and left 3.5 homeless, because the entire world is struggling. This tremor is a reminder to us of how much we remain at risk of disaster and this pandemic is our most vulnerable time.
When the Sun rises over Pakistan, we will know the full extent of what the quake has wrought within our nation. Let us ready for what may be a significant national emergency tomorrow. Watch out for landslides, avalanches, and glacial lake outburst floods in the northern areas. And Pakistanis should know that they have to remain wary. The authorities are warning of aftershocks following tonight’s quake. Any further tremors could bring down structures weakened by the previous earthquake. There is a more alarming possibility to take into account. What if instead of aftershocks after this, the tremor that just happened is a foreshock to a bigger earthquake that is coming? People should take precautions in the event of further quakes. They can spend all their time in certain locations that provide them safety, such as outside their homes or near the doorway. Just know that we cannot do things the way we used to be able to, such as moving into shelters with other people. PPLDM will be back with more coverage.
Stay safe, Pakistan. And let’s stand together.