Asian earthquake death toll rises to 30,000, many of the struck areas still out of reach

The earthquake and massive landslides buried many training camps of jihadists

According to Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, the mammoth earthquake that struck south Asia on Saturday morning have killed about 30,000 people. Some specialists warned that the final death toll could be twice as high, making it the worst natural disaster in the country's history. The scale of the earthquake became clear yesterday morning, when Major General Shaukat Sultan, a Pakistani military spokesman, raised estimates of the dead to 18,000 from 3,000 and warned much of the affected area had yet to be reached.

Many villages were reduced to rubble. Officials said it was likely at least a further 40,000 people were injured, and thousands of victims of falling masonry have already overwhelmed Pakistan's emergency medical system. Rescuers struggled to reach remote, mountainous areas and stricken residents of a devastated city scavenged for food and gasoline. In dozens of villages, many cut off from rescuers by quake-induced landslides, relatives desperate to find their loved ones dug through rubble with their bare hands.

Earthquake in south Asia - Photo gallery

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf appealed for urgent help, particularly cargo helicopters to reach remote areas. In response, US President George W. Bush yesterday promised cash and eight helicopters to help with earthquake rescue and recovery. “Thousands of people have died, thousands are wounded, and the United States of America wants to help,” Bush said from the Oval Office.

The quake was felt across a wide swath of South Asia from central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh. It swayed buildings in the capitals of three nations, with the damage spanning at least 250 miles (400 kilometers) from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in Indian Kashmir.

Injured people covered by shawls lay in the street, waiting for medical care. Residents carried bodies on wooden planks. The corpses of four children, aged between 4 and 6, lay under a sheet of corrugated iron.

The death toll in India rose yesterday to 465 after rescue workers and soldiers pulled out 90 more bodies in the frontier Tangdar region, north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state. India reported at least 250 people killed and 800 injured when the earthquake destroyed 2700 houses and other buildings in Jammu-Kashmir state.

"I could see rocks and homes tumbling down the mountains," said Mr Ilahi, who was driving to his village of Garlat when the quake struck. "When I reached my village, there was nothing left of my home."

Training camps used by jihadists battling with the Indian army for control of Kashmir were buried by landslides or left in ruins by the earthquake, bringing hope of a new opportunity for peace-making after a 16-year Islamic insurgency. India and Pakistan, nuclear rivals who both lay claim to Kashmir in its entirety, have fought two of their three wars over the territory. Military sources said that an estimated 1,000 Pakistani soldiers died in the earthquake after their concrete-roofed bunkers along the Kashmir frontier collapsed. Security sources said 15 militant training camps had been put out of action by the earthquake.

Source: agencies

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Author`s name Olga Savka