A powerful 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit a remote region of Pakistan earlier today, killing at least 45 people and creating a new island off the country’s coast in the Arabian Sea.
Many people were killed under the rubble of their own homes before they were able to rush outside into safe open areas. The earthquake was centred in the Baluchistan province’s Awaran district and was felt as far away as New Delhi, India.
According to he U.S. Geological Survey, the death toll is expected to rise to the hundreds or thousands: as many as 44,000 people were exposed to the tremors, with the vast majority living in structures built with poor to non-existent building codes. (Update at 10:10 p.m. on Sept. 24, 2013: the death toll in the region has risen to 208 people, the number is expected to continue climb in the coming days).
Pakistan is located within a geologically vulnerable location that is prone to severe earthquakes. In 2005, a 7.8 magnitude tremor hit its Kashmir region, killing 80,000 and leaving more than 3.5 million people homeless.
In addition to relief efforts, Pakistani officials are investigating whether the earthquake pushed up the seabed and formed a new large island mass that did not exist before.
Coastal residents reportedly saw an island, measuring 100 metres long and 9 metres high, rise out of the ocean immediately after the earthquake. The island is 600 metres away from the coastline and hundreds of kilometres away from the epicentre.
Seismologists believe the island may merely be a temporary formation that was the result of a jet of mud from a “mud volcano.” The earthquake may have caused pressurized sediments to gush or squeeze out of the sea surface. In the past, similar islands have formed in the area after powerful earthquakes in the 1940s and 1968, but the formations did not last long – washing away over a matter of weeks and months.
Although less likely, similar natural phenomena could also theoretically occur along British Columbia’s coast. These sudden islands often occur after powerful earthquakes of at least a 7 magnitude or stronger and are usually found along subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another.
This includes the subduction zone found off our coast, where the Juan de Fuca Plate slides under the North America Plate. The infamous Pacific Northwest “Big One” event will be triggered when the Juan de Fuca Plate makes a sudden jolt under the continental plate.
Featured Image: Twitter @Senator_Baloch