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Death Toll Rising in South Asia Earthquake

By Benjamin Sand, VOA, Islamabad

Frantic rescue efforts continue as the death toll from South Asia's massive earthquake tops 18,000, most of them in Pakistan. There are reports the number of dead could pass 25,000 in Pakistan alone.

In an official statement, Maj. General Shaukat Sultan says the bulk of the deaths are in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, where Saturday's 7.6 magnitude quake was centered.

General Sultan says the death toll will continue to rise as rescue workers reach the hardest hit areas.

Hundreds of deaths also are being reported in other parts of Pakistan and in the Indian portion of Kashmir.

From the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, residents are describing scenes of nearly absolute destruction.

Landslides triggered by the quake reportedly have wiped out entire villages.

The region's capital city, Muzaffarabad, has been devastated, houses and major infrastructure reportedly lying in ruins.

Rescue workers say key access roads remain blocked by debris and mudslides.

General Sultan says soldiers are trying to restore the main road linking Kashmir to the rest of Pakistan, to allow urgently needed aid to pass through.

In the neighboring Northwest Frontier Province authorities say hundreds of children were killed when their schools collapsed trapping them beneath the concrete rubble.

The United Nations is helping coordinate relief operations for international aid agencies.

Senior U.N. staff member Haoliang Xu says assessment teams are compiling lists of affected areas and available supplies.

"At this time clearly you need shelter, water food and medicine. Secondly, we're organizing a couple of surgery teams," he said.

For now, aid is being ferried into many communities by helicopter while relief agencies ready supplies and wait for the roads to be cleared.

Relief workers warn thousands of people are now homeless just as winter weather hits Kashmir's mountainous communities.

In Islamabad, rescue workers continue to dig through what remains of a 10-story apartment building that caved in Saturday morning.

Officials say more than 80 people have been rescued but many more are feared dead and still buried in the rubble.

Subcontinent Has Long History of Devastating Earthquakes

The earthquake that struck the Kashmir region of northern India and Pakistan is one of strongest in living memory. Yet, the Indian subcontinent has a long history of devastating earthquakes.

Two of the most deadly also measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, just like the current one.

The first, in 1935, killed 35,000 people when it struck Quetta in Baluchistan province of what is now western Pakistan. More recently, at least 11,500 people were killed in 2001 in the Indian city of Gujarat by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that also killed 20 people in southern Pakistan. That was also felt throughout the Indian sub-continent, including Bangladesh.

The most powerful earthquake struck in 1905 with a magnitude of 7.9, killing nearly 20,000 people in Kangra, a city in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

As long ago as 893, an estimated 150,000 people were killed when the city of Debal in modern-day Pakistan was destroyed. Other notable earthquakes occurred in 1945, when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake centered off the Makran coast of Pakistan killed at least 2,000 people in southern Pakistan and neighboring Iran.

In 1991, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake in the Hindukush mountains of Afghanistan took relatively few lives - about 400 in Afghanistan and another 300 in Pakistan and Tagikistan - but was felt as far away as New Delhi and Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

... Payvand News - 10/9/05 ... --

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