WAM, Pakistan — Desperate villagers clawed through piles of mud and timber looking for victims of an earthquake that collapsed thousands of homes in southwestern Pakistan before dawn Wednesday, killing at least 170 people.
Army planes began flying in tents, medical supplies and blankets to the quake zone in Baluchistan province, but about 15,000 homeless people in the impoverished region faced a night in the open in near freezing temperatures after the 6.4-magnitude jolt.
"I have lost everything," said Haji Shahbaz, mourning the deaths of 17 relatives in Wam, a hard-hit village. "Nothing is left here, and now life is worthless for me," he added, then wailed in despair, tears streaking his dust-caked face.
Pakistan is no stranger to natural disasters, but the quake comes at an especially precarious time for the country, with the civilian government battling al-Qaida and Taliban attacks while grappling with an economic crisis.
As the army and other government agencies rushed to provide help, at least three hard-line Islamic organizations also were quick to aid quake survivors, according to an Associated Press reporter who toured the area.
Among them was Jamaat-ud-Dawa, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government for its links to Muslim separatists fighting in India's portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
The group set up relief camps and won friends among survivors of a 7.6-magnitude quake that devastated Kashmir and northern Pakistan in October 2005. That quake killed about 80,000 people.
Baluchistan is home to a long-running separatist movement, but has been spared the level of militant violence seen in the northwestern tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, where Muslim extremists are strong.
Wednesday's quake hit before sunrise. Witnesses reported two strong jolts about an hour apart, saying the second at 5:10 a.m. caused the destruction, collapsing houses.