Death toll tops 500 after Pakistan quake; area twice size of New Jersey flattened

A Pakistani woman bathes her child amid the rubble of her house, which was destroyed in Tuesday's earthquake in the remote district of Awaran in Balochistan province, Pakistan, on Friday. Shakil Adil / AP

The death toll from an earthquake that devastated an impoverished region of Pakistan has climbed past 500, a provincial official said Friday.

Babar Yaqoob, chief secretary of Balochistan, told Reuters 515 people have now been confirmed dead following the 7.7-magnitude temblor which struck the remote area on Tuesday.

More than 30 villages, containing some 20,000 homes, were flattened across 15,400 square miles of the remote Balochistan region -- an area almost double the size of New Jersey.

Dozens of bodies are being recovered every day from mud homes whose walls and beams have been reduced to dust and rubble.

"My daughter was killed when my house collapsed -- I was also inside my house but manage to run out," 70-year-old Gul January said. "We are sitting under the scorching sun and need shelter."

The rescue effort was made more difficult Thursday after militants fired rockets at three army helicopters delivering aid.

The Associated Press reported one of the choppers was carrying the head of the country's National Disaster Management Authority, Major General Alam Saeed.

Frontier Corps spokesman Khan Wasey told Pakistani newspaper Dawn that “small arms” were used in the attack. The newspaper reported it was the second assault in as many days.

"There is a law and order situation here and other hurdles but despite everything, we will get to every last person," Lt. Gen. Nasir Janjua, the highest ranking military official in the province, told Reuters.

In addition to the destruction caused to houses, communications have been badly disrupted and rescue workers are finding it difficult to get to bodies, Dawn reported. It said Balochistan, which accounts for roughly 44 percent of Pakistan's land mass but only 5 percent of its population, was the most impoverished Pakistani province.

The newspaper added that although teams were working to recover bodies, their priority was to take the injured to hospitals.

Meanwhile, people living on the coastal region of Gwadar saw a new island created in the aftermath of the quake. The locals said this was the second occurrence of its kind, following a similar island springing up after a quake in 1968 which later sunk back into the water.

Seismologists said the island was probably the result of a "mud volcano," caused by a jet of water and sediment from the ocean floor.

NBC News contributor Alexander Smith, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.