A young man with a jet-black beard crouches, grief-stricken, next to the body of his baby, swaddled in a blanket, as his other children look on in shock.

"I tried to take out my children, but the jolt was so strong," Rafiullah, a farmer in the mountainous Pakistani district of Harnai, told AFP.

The roof of his mud house collapsed and knocked Rafiullah unconscious when the 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province in the early hours of Thursday.

"When I regained consciousness, I pulled out two of my sons," he said.

But his youngest boy, only around one, had been struck by a wooden beam, and "had already died". 

At least 20 people, including six children, were killed in the quake that hit just after 3:00 am (2200 GMT Wednesday).

It was felt across at least six cities and towns but the remote district of Harnai was worst-affected, with landslides triggered by the jolt blocking some roads and hampering rescue efforts in the area.

Images published by the Balochistan Levies law enforcement agency showed men clearing fallen rocks from a blocked road, with only the headlights of cars parked nearby to cut through the darkness.  


- 'Screaming for help' -


"It was a strong earthquake. The jolt was very powerful," Zaman Shah told AFP in Harnai.

"As we ran to save our lives, some people fell," he said. 

"Our homes have suffered damage, and lives were also lost."

Provincial officials said dozens if not hundreds of people were injured, while hundreds of mud brick houses were damaged.

As day broke, Harnai residents were sifting through the yellow-brown rubble that once constituted their homes.

Some desperately pulled away bricks and rocks with their bare hands, while one man struggled to lift a door flattened on top of the debris.

Children with smudged faces and bandaged heads sat in stunned silence on stretchers, as ambulances wailed by and army helicopters roared overhead.

They were evacuating those worst injured from remote areas to Quetta, the nearest major city. 

When the shallow quake shook the ground in Gharibabad village in Harnai district, "everybody rushed to save their lives," 27-year-old villager Rahamatullah told AFP.

"Women and children were screaming for help."

He said no one from his family was injured, but that they had been terrified to see big cracks in the walls.

When a second jolt rocked the area around two hours after the first quake, "nobody dared to go inside his home," he says. 

"People stayed out of their house for the rest of the night." 

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