Saturday, October 08, 2005

Earthquake Hits South Asia, Thousands Dead

Officials say thousands of people may have died in Saturday's powerful quake that hit Pakistan, Northern India and Afghanistan.

The 7.6-magnitude quake with the epicentre 80km (50 miles) north-east of Islamabad wiped out several villages. More than 3,000 people are feared dead in the worst affected North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Kashmir. In one incident, 400 children were said to have died when two schools collapsed in NWFP's Mansehra district. Indian officials reported nearly 300 deaths in Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has described the quake as a 'test of the nation'.

Several countries have offered to send emergency aid. In a message to Mr Musharraf, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: 'While parts of India have also suffered from this unexpected natural disaster, we are prepared to extend any assistance with rescue and relief which you may deem appropriate.'

The earthquake, which hit at 0350G MT, was felt as far away as the Afghan capital, Kabul, and India's capital, Delhi. Several aftershocks followed. The head of police in the NWFP told AFP news agency more than 1,700 had died there alone. Part of the upmarket Margala Towers residential complex collapsed in Islamabad. 'I could only do one thing which was to pick people out of the rubble and with my bare hands. I started to dig and I pulled out one dead body.' Karam Umrani, Islamabad police officer, told reporters. 'But I managed to rescue another man of 35 and carried him on my shoulders to the ambulance.'

In Pakistani-controlled Kashmir 250 bodies have been recovered of the more than 2,000 feared dead, an official told the BBC from the provincial capital, Muzaffarabad. 'All official buildings have collapsed,' he said. Landslides have blocked all access roads to Muzaffarabad, where there is no electricity and telephones. Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan warned the death toll could top several thousands in Kashmir alone. At least 200 Pakistani soldiers were among those killed in the area."

In Indian-administered Kashmir, 15 soldiers were among those killed. The town of Uri close to the Line of Control that separates divided Kashmir was worst hit, with 104 dead. The administration is working overtime to restore essential supplies like electricity and water disrupted by the earthquake, says the BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar.

Ben Phillips of Oxfam told the BBC the initial requirement would be for tents, blankets, food aid and medical supplies. 'A number of countries have offered help and the United Nations is sending a team to co-ordinate the relief effort.'

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