Strong aftershocks in South Asia drive death toll to more than 79,000

New casualty figures from the South Asian earthquake have pushed the death toll to more than 79,000, regional officials said Wednesday. The new numbers come as two strong aftershocks shook the devastated region, unleashing landslides and setting off another wave of panic among survivors who lost loved ones and homes in the Oct. 8 disaster.

On Wednesday, Asif Iqbal Daudzai, information minister for Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, said 37,958 people died in the province and at least 23,172 were injured, the vast majority of them in Mansehra district. He said the figures were based on reports from local government and hospital officials, and that the toll was likely to rise.

The prime minister of neighboring Pakistani-held Kashmir, Sikander Hayat Khan, said at least 40,000 people died in that region. India has reported 1,360 deaths in the part of Kashmir that it controls. If accurate, the death tolls from both sides of Kashmir and the NWFP would total nearly 79,000.

Pakistan's central government has said the death toll from North West Frontier Province and Pakistani-held Kashmir was a total of 42,000, and expected to rise. The central count has lagged behind the local count since the early days of the disaster. If accurate, the death tolls from both sides of Kashmir and the NWFP would total more than 79,000.

Wednesday morning's 5.8-magnitude aftershock struck 129 kilometers (80 miles) north of Islamabad, near the epicenter of the main quake, according to the U.S. National Earthquake Center in Colorado. It was followed by another in the same area about 45 minutes later that registered 5.6.

The first aftershock caused a landslide in Balakot, one of the cities hardest hit by the initial quake. Debris covered the road to nearby Mansehra, but it was quickly cleared, said Pakistani Army Lt. Col. Saeed Iqbal, who is in charge of relief efforts in the area.

A landslide also blocked a road out of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, but it was expected to be cleared later in the day.

Iqbal said the aftershock was "very heavy" and that he saw dust rising from the Kaghan Valley north of Balakot, possibly indicating an additional landslide. He said he had no immediate reports from his 60 teams of soldiers that were carrying in relief goods in the vicinity.

In Indian-held Kashmir, the new tremors startled thousands of people in relief camps, including those in the worst-hit Uri and Tangdar districts close to the boundary with Pakistan-held territory. Police said there were no reports of landslides or damage to buildings.

Hundreds of aftershocks have struck the region since the Oct. 8 quake, the AP informs.

"They're not over," said Waverly Person, a seismologist at the U.S. quake center. "For a shallow-depth earthquake like this they go on, sometimes for a year."

Despite brisk sorties of helicopters delivering aid to quake victims, an estimated half-million survivors, many of them in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, have yet to receive any help since the monster 7.6-magnitude quake leveled entire villages. Thousands need urgent medical care.


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