More than 18,000 people were killed in a massive earthquake that rocked Pakistan, India and Afghanistan yesterday, flattening villages and triggering a frantic scramble to rescue survivors.
The death toll was initially put at 3,000 but skyrocketed as rescuers discovered huge swaths of devastation in the mountains of Pakistani Kashmir. Officials said at least 40,000 people were injured and warned that the staggering body count could still rise.
The quake - measured at a magnitude of 7.6 - was centered 60 miles from Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, near the Pakistani-Indian border. The grimmest discoveries early on were at two schools in northwestern Pakistan, where 400 children were crushed to death by walls that caved in.
At least 200 Pakistani soldiers in the Kashmir area were killed, some when their bunker was hit by a landslide. Landslides and heavy rain complicated the rescue mission. Some hospitals were so damaged doctors treated victims in the streets.
In Islamabad, rescuers used their hands to dig through the blood-spattered rubble of at least 10 apartment towers that collapsed, trapping hundreds of people, officials said. Rescuers reported hearing the screams of women and children buried in the debris.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was marshaling military and civilian forces to search for survivors. Musharraf also accepted help from neighboring India. The two nations have fought several wars, although relations have improved the past few years, New York Daily News reported.
In the Kashmir area on the Indian-Pakistani border, some mud-hut villages were completely destroyed. Officials said at least 250 people were killed in the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir and at least 17,000 died in the area controlled by Pakistan.