The Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps are engaged in a major rescue operation as the toll in the powerful earthquake that shook Awaran and parts of Balochistan and Sindh on Tuesday claimed over 300 lives, and injured over 400.The chairperson of the National Disaster Management Authority Maj General Muhammed Saeed Aleem said the main damage was in Awaran, near the epicenter of the quake which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale.

Spokesperson of the Balochistan government Jan Muhammed Buledi told The Hindu on the phone on Wednesday that the toll was rising rapidly as information was coming in slowly from the remote areas of Awaran. Till now about 328 people were confirmed dead in the quake and in the two districts of Awaran and Kech there was 80 per cent damage.

About 5000 tents were provided to the people and the rescue operation is expected to last another two days at least, he said. Awaran is a large district with an area of 30,000 sq km and last night troops of the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps were dispatched to the far flung areas to retrieve bodies trapped in the rubble. An official statement said so far 174 wounded persons have been evacuated from different areas to the district hospital, Awaran.

About 7000 Kg of food items, 1000 Kg medicine and 200 tents have been distributed among the earthquake affected persons, Inter Services Public Relations(ISPR) said in the statement. Cooked food is also being provided to the homeless people and a Field Medical facility comprising 21 doctors and 50 paramedics are providing medical treatment to the injured in two places -- Khuzdar and Awaran. About 300 troops of Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps personnel were moved last night for rescue operation in earthquake affected areas and strength has now risen to more than 1000. Six Pakistan Army helicopters are also participating in rescue operations. So far 10 sorties have been flown to affected areas of Awaran and Khuzdar.

Khuzder will be the base for rescue operations and night flying helicopters with medical personnel are on their way.

Maj General Aleem told mediapersons in Quetta that injured people were shifted to Karachi which was the closest city and the Sindh government had sent two trucks with medicines and supplies. The long distances in the district where the population was spread out in pockets made rescue time consuming. Communications were also disrupted. Special search and rescue and teams were on the job and helicopters were being used for evacuating the injured. He said at least 500 houses were damaged and the first priority was to give shelter to those whose homes had been destroyed. Aerial survey of the district was conducted by top government and security officials and fresh satellite images have been sought for from the air force and other agencies to help assess the damage, he said. While Iran and Turkey and international agencies had offered help, he said that so far the Prime Minister had virtually given a free hand for relief and rescue operations in terms of personnel and resources.

Water supply issues were also being addressed and bottled water was being sent in from Karachi. Maj General Aleem said till the last person was rescued, the operations would continue.

Meanwhile there were conflicting reports on the toll, according to Ejaz Khan, bureau chief for Geo TV from Quetta. He said that the toll was far higher according to information coming in from the remote areas. Most of the deaths were from Awaran and about 50 from Kech which was the adjoining district. Awaran district had a population of 200,000.