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Tens Of Thousands Believed Dead From South Asian Quake

A Pakistani soldier helps evacuate a child from Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir 9 October 2005 -- Rescue and relief efforts are continuing at a frantic pace in Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir following the massive earthquake on 8 October that killed thousands of people, flattened buildings, and triggered landslides that buried homes and blocked highways.

The death toll in the region -- where Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan were hardest hit -- has climbed to more than 19,000, according to official figures. But authorities were already warning that figure could rise to 30,000 or more, with tens of thousands of others injured.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has appealed to the international community for cargo helicopters, medicine and medical aid, blankets, money, and other assistance to help victims of the devastation.

Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao today announced three days of national mourning, saying it would start immediately. He called the situation "horrendous" and said the list of casualties was growing by the hour.

The initial earthquake on 8 October of magnitude 7.6 was centered about 95 kilometers northeast of the Pakistan capital Islamabad, near the mountainous and heavily militarized frontier that separates Pakistani- and Indian-administered Kashmir.

Pakistani officials said overnight that more than 18,000 people had been killed, mostly within the Kashmiri territory under their administration. A spokesman for Pakistan's armed forces, Major General Shaukat Sultan, said early today that at least 17,000 of those victims are in Kashmir and tens of thousands of people are thought to have been injured.

Worst Fears

Pakistani officials were quoted by international media as saying more than 24 hours after the initial earthquake that they still had not been able to reach roughly one-third of the affected areas.

Several officials were quoted as suggesting the number of dead is likely to top 30,000 from the massive quake, aftershocks, and related damage.

General Jan Muhammad Khan, the deputy director of Pakistan's Agro-Met Center -- the national geological center in Islamabad -- suggested to RFE/RL's Afghan Service that the number of dead could reach 40,000.

"The exact figure is not yet final because some villages and places are far away and the roads and many necessary activities are still [under way]. So it will take some time to finalize the exact figure," Muhammad Khan said. "I think it would be nearly 40,000 -- plus or minus -- just about 40,000 [people] died. I think so."

Dr. Rizwan, the head of Rescue Operations in Islamabad, was on the scene early today to coordinate the effort at one building in the Pakistani capital.

"Roughly about 40 to 45 apartments -- a range of about four [people] per apartment -- are expected to be in the building," Rizwan said. "And about 40 to 50 persons are buried in the rubble. And as the search and rescue operation from all four sides was conducted at different levels and approaches, the people have been evacuated. And now the debris is being cleared to look for any other victims who may possible still be in there."

Appeals For Help

Pakistani President Musharraf today called on his countrymen from around the world to join together to bring relief to the thousands who are suffering.

"We don't need manpower support, as the entire military has been mobilized and the public is also available," Musharraf said. "What we need right now are beds and tents so that the people who have been made homeless can have some kind of shelter and get some comfort."

Musharraf asked Pakistanis abroad to donate as much as they can to the president's earthquake-relief fund.

"Today, Pakistan and the whole nation is faced with the biggest disaster and tragedy," Musharraf told the country. "At this time, I am sure that the whole nation will face this tragedy together."

In Islamabad, a rapid-reaction rescue team from the United Kingdom joined Pakistani emergency workers and military troops who are trying to dig survivors out of a large residential building that collapsed in the initial quake.

An eight-member United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team was due in Islamabad today to play a leading role in the international response, which includes offers of financial aid and physical assistance from India, Turkey, Europe, and the United States.

World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz said today in Japan that the bank has offered $20 million to assist Pakistani relief and recovery efforts.

Destruction In India

Indian authorities, meanwhile, have confirmed at least 360 deaths. They say the death toll is expected to rise further as communications are reestablished with villages that have been cut off. At least 850 people have been taken to hospital so far in the Indian-administered territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The border areas of Uri, Salamabad, Kupwara and Baramulla in Indian Kashmir were the worst hit. Many mud and stone houses collapsed, while others developed cracks in their walls that make them unsafe for habitation.

Uri -- the last major town on the highway connecting the two sides of Kashmir -- accounted for about 130 deaths. That includes about 40 soldiers in the Uri region -- some of whom were crushed inside of bunkers close to the military cease-fire line between India and Pakistan.

Correspondents said the town of Salamabad resembled a ghost town, with most residents either already in hospitals or at relief camps. Salamabad resident Afzal Hussain said the devastation in that town is enormous.

"All the houses collapsed here," Hussain said. "We have faced a lot of losses. A lot of people have died. We don't even know how many have died, because there are too many villages from where we don't have any news."

Others frantically searched for their loved ones while hundreds more sat beside their injured relatives to wait for medical assistance. Overworked soldiers sought to get those in the most critical condition to hospitals.

"My daughter is injured. She is still unconscious," said one mother among those in Salamabad still waiting for help. "No one has helped us. We don't know where will we go now. I have lost everything."

Ghulam Nabi Azad, chief of the ruling Congress Party in Jammu and Kashmir, said the need for emergency aid is enormous.

"The government will provide whatever help it can because it is the first time in Jammu and Kashmir that a quake of such an extent has happened," Azad said. "A lot of civilians and army personnel have been killed. All kinds of aid for army personnel and civilians will be necessary."

Afghanistan also reported at least one death, but the toll could rise as information becomes available from areas hardest hit in Afghanistan's remote northeastern mountains.

(compiled from RFE/RL and international wire reports)

See also:

South Asia Quake's Death Toll Grows

Hundreds Killed By Powerful South Asian Earthquake