Earthquake Kills 3,000 Across South Asia
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA,
A powerful 7.6-magnitude earthquake near the Pakistan-India border Saturday reduced villages to rubble, triggered landslides and flattened an apartment building. More than 3,000 people were killed in both nations, and a Pakistan army spokesman called the devastation "a national tragedy."
The toll included 250 girls who died when their school in northwestern Pakistan collapsed. Another 500 students were injured, said Ataullah Khan Wazir, police chief in the northwestern district of Mansehra.
In the capitals of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, buildings shook and walls swayed for about a minute, and panicked people ran from their homes and offices. Tremors continued for hours afterward. Communications throughout the region were cut.
About 1,000 people were killed in Pakistani Kashmir, said Sardar Mohammed Anwar, the top government official in the area. The army said 200 soldiers there were killed.
"This is my conservative guess, and the death toll could be much higher," Anwar told Pakistan's Aaj television station.
He said most homes in Muzaffarabad, the area's capital, were damaged, and schools and hospitals had collapsed.
At least 1,600 people died in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, said the province's top elected official, Akram Durani.
The U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site the quake hit at 8:50 a.m. local time and had a magnitude of 7.6. It was centered about 60 miles northeast of Islamabad in the forested mountains of Pakistani Kashmir.
"The damage and casualties could be massive and it is a national tragedy," chief army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told The Associated Press. "This is the worst earthquake in recent times."
Damage was extensive in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory divided between India and Pakistan.
Officials in the Indian-controlled portion reported at least 250 people killed, including 20 soldiers who perished in a landslide. At least 850 people were injured and about 2,700 homes were destroyed or damaged across Jammu-Kashmir, said senior state official B.B. Vyas.
Army soldiers and local volunteers were rescuing people from under the debris of collapsed houses. Telephone lines were down. Bridges had developed cracks, but traffic was passing over them.
The USGS reported at least five aftershocks in Pakistan, with the strongest measuring magnitude 6.3 and located about 70 miles north of Islamabad.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz ordered the military to extend "all-out help" to quake-hit areas and appealed to the nation to stay calm. Helicopters took troops to damaged areas, but landslides were hindering rescue efforts.
Musharraf, walking through the rubble in Islamabad, said the air force was deploying C-130 transport planes and 10 helicopters to devastated areas.
In a show of solidarity, India offered assistance and condolences to its longtime rival. The neighbors, which are engaged in a peace process, have fought three wars, including two over Kashmir, since independence from Britain in 1947.
"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," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a message to Musharraf.
President Bush offered condolences and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States was ready to help.
"At this difficult time, the United States stands with its friends in Pakistan and India, just as they stood with us and offered assistance after Hurricane Katrina," Rice said in a statement.
In eastern Afghanistan, an 11-year-old girl was crushed to death when a wall in her home collapsed, said police official Gafar Khan.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said the quake was felt at Bagram, the main American base in Afghanistan, but he had no reports of damage at bases around the country.
Maj. Richard McNorton, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said there were no reports of quake-related injuries among the more than 18,000 American forces in Afghanistan.
The quake brought down a 10-story apartment building in Islamabad and dozens of people were feared trapped in the rubble. Rescuers pulled out at least 20 injured people. Some residents were Westerners, a building employee said.
A man named Rehmatullah who lived nearby said he saw dust from the buckled building from his bathroom window.
"I rushed down, and for some time you could not see anything because of the dust. Then we began to look for people in the rubble," he said. "We pulled out one man by cutting off his legs."
"It was like hell," said Nauman Ali, who lived in a nearby top-floor apartment. "It was terrible. I was tossed up in my bed and the ceiling fan struck against the roof."
Aided by two large cranes, hundreds of police and soldiers helped remove chunks of concrete, one of which was splattered with blood. One rescue worker said he heard faint cries from people trapped in the rubble.
In Abbotabad, north of Islamabad, dozens of quake victims and other patients, some hooked up to intravenous drips, lay on the lawn of the city hospital after officials said aftershocks made it unsafe to stay inside. Hospital staff used loudspeakers to ask the public for food and other relief supplies.
One of the injured was 8-year-old Qadeer, whose father, a farmer named Jehangir, said the only buildings left standing in their village were a mosque and a school. Qadeer lay unconscious, his right leg heavily bandaged.
Sultan said the worst-hit areas were in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, including Muzaffarabad, the regional capital, and the towns of Bagh and Rawalakot. The districts of Batagram, Balakot, Mansehra, Abbottabad and Patan in northwestern Pakistan also suffered serious damage, he said.
Dozens of homes, schools, mosques and government offices were damaged, and hundreds of injured people were taken to hospitals.
In India's portion of Kashmir, two main highways were closed because of landslides triggered by the quake, and relief material was being flown to some areas, said Vijay Bakaya, Jammu-Kashmir state's chief secretary.
At least 400 tents were flown by helicopter to Uri and Tangdar to provide temporary shelter in the freezing Himalayan foothills, officials said. Teams of doctors and Red Cross volunteers were traveling by road and on foot to remote mountainous areas, Bakaya said.
All hospitals in the state have been put on alert and medical staff recalled, he said.
Power has been restored to hospitals, but telephone, water and electricity supplies were still disrupted across much of the state.
"Our first priority is to help affected families, deliver relief and assess the loss so that further help can be provided," Bakaya said.
In Kunzru village, near Srinagar, almost the entire village of 200 homes was flattened.
"The floor started shaking, and everything turned upside down," villager Ghulam Mohi-udin Khan said from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for a fractured leg.
His wife lay on an adjacent cot, her head in bandages from a head wound caused by falling masonry as their house collapsed.
Many Kunzru residents sat in the open fields waiting for relief to reach them.
The temblor also was felt near India's capital.
"It was so strong that I saw buildings swaying. It was terrifying," said Hari Singh, a guard in an apartment complex in a suburb of New Delhi. Hundreds of residents raced down from their apartments after their furniture started shaking.
The quake also jolted parts of Bangladesh, but no casualties or damages were reported.
Associated Press reporters Munir Ahmad, Sadaqat Jan, Riaz Khan and Asif Shahzad contributed to this report.