The magnitude 7.6 earthquake that shattered Pakistan on October 8, 2005, caused the most damage in the region surrounding the city of Muzaffarabad, about 10 kilometers southwest of the earthquake’s epicenter. The quake flattened buildings and triggered landslides throughout Kashmir. The Ikonos satellite captured an image of a landslide (top) in Makhri, a village on the northern outskirts of Muzzaffarabad, on October 9, 2005. The western face of the mountain has collapsed, sending a cascade of white-grey rock into the Neelum River. The landslide is likely only one of many to occur along the river, which is almost unrecognizable after the earthquake. The blue waters seen on September 15, 2002, have turned brown with the dirt of landslides upstream. The landslide shown here blocked the river’s normal course, forcing the Neelum to abandon the “u”-shaped bend seen in the center of the lower image for a more direct course over its former brown and white banks to its northern reaches.
The damage to the city is not visible, even in this detailed image, but the media report that the city has nearly been destroyed. More than 51,300 people have died, and at least 3 million are homeless, making aid organizations call the disaster worse than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The earthquake occurred along the western end of the Himalaya Mountains, where tectonic motion is pushing India under Tibet. The motion of the continent builds pressure over time, which is relieved in massive earthquakes. Scientists have been predicting a major earthquake in the region. The last catastrophic earthquake to rattle the region occurred in 1555, though quakes similar to the October 2005 quake have occurred as recently at 1974. With a death toll over 50,000, the October 2005 earthquake is the most deadly earthquake to occur on the Indian subcontinent, geologist Roger Bilham of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences reported in his analysis of the quake.