MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – Hurt and hungry, families huddled under makeshift tents while waiting for relief supplies today after Pakistan’s worst-ever earthquake wiped out entire villages and buried roads in rubble. The death toll stood at 20,000 and is expected to rise.
In this devastated Himalayan city, wounded covered by shawls lay in the street, and villagers used sledgehammers to break through the rubble of flattened schools and homes seeking survivors.
The quake collapsed the city’s Islamabad Public School. Soldiers with white cloth tied around their mouths and noses pulled a small girl’s dust-covered body from the ruins, while the body of a boy remained pinned between heavy slabs of concrete.
The United Nations said more than 2.5 million people need shelter after the magnitude 7.6 earthquake along the Pakistan-India border. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Relief said it urgently needs 200,000 winterized tents.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf complained of a shortage of helicopters to ferry in relief workers, food and medical supplies and appealed for international help.
In Washington, President Bush said eight U.S. military choppers were being moved to help in rescue efforts, and he promised financial assistance. India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan, also offered assistance, as did Israel, which has no relations with the Muslim nation.
“We are handling the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history,” chief army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.
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 from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in northern Indian territory. In Islamabad, Pakistan, a 10-story building collapsed, killing at least 24 people.
Late Sunday, helmeted rescuers found a survivor after hearing his cries for help. The thin man in a blue shirt, looking dazed, emerged on his own with little help and stood in front of a crowd of cheering onlookers. One rescuer patted his head, and the man waved and pumped his fist in the air.
Pakistan said the death toll ranged between 20,000 and 30,000. India reported more than 600 dead, and Afghanistan said four were killed there.
“We have enough manpower, but we need financial support … to cope with the tragedy,” Musharraf said in Rawalpindi, according to the state-run news agency, Associated Press of Pakistan.
He also appealed for medicine and tents.
Musharraf told the British Broadcasting Corp. he knows of as many as 20,000 people killed, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told CNN about 43,000 people were injured.
Musharraf said the only way to reach many far-flung areas is by helicopter because roads are impassable.
In Muzaffarabad, where some 11,000 people died, about 2,000 people huddled around campfires through the cold night Sunday on a soccer field at the university, where most of the buildings had collapsed.
Mohammed Ullah Khan, 50, said he had had nothing to eat for three days except a few biscuits handed out by relief workers. His three-story home had been crushed by the quake. His wife, who had suffered a fractured leg, was wrapped up in a yellow quilt beside him.
“My children are now on a hillside, under open sky, with nothing to eat,” he said today.
Most of the devastation occurred in northern Pakistan. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 60 miles northeast of the capital, Islamabad, in the forested mountains of Pakistani Kashmir.
“I have been informed by my department that more than 30,000 people have died in Kashmir,” Tariq Mahmmod, communications minister for the Himalayan region, told the Associated Press.
Troops “have not started relief work in remote villages where people are still buried in the rubble, and in some areas, nobody is present to organize funerals for the dead,” he said.
The USGS said there have been at least 26 aftershocks, including a 6.2 magnitude temblor.
Dozens of villages were cut off from rescuers by quake-induced landslides. Relatives desperate to find their loved ones dug through flattened homes and schools with bare hands.
In Muzaffarabad, a city of 600,000 that is the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, residents said they face food and gasoline shortages. There was no electricity, and people collected water from a mountain stream.
“People are relying on local fruit, and they have little food to eat. I went out to get bread and could get only a couple of apples,” carpet seller Gul Khan said.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said 11,000 people in Muzaffarabad were killed.
At least 250 pupils are feared trapped at the Islamabad Public School, and dozens of villagers, some with sledgehammers, pulled at debris and carried away bodies. Several bright backpacks dotted the rubble. Nearby, a man cried over a child’s body.
“The communication infrastructure and systems are down, and we can’t get help to us. That should be the priority,” principal Mushtaq Ahmed Kahn said.
Hundreds of people waited at bus stations, hoping to leave. The body of a man lay on a roadside, and a family pushed a body in a cart.
The military hospital had collapsed, and residents said bodies were inside. Doctors set up a makeshift clinic in a park.
“The situation is very bad. Surgeries are being conducted on soccer fields. There are not enough doctors,” Ozgur Bozoglu, a member of a Turkish search-and-rescue team, GEA, told Turkey’s NTV television.
Helicopters and C-130 transport planes took troops and supplies to damaged areas Sunday. When confronted by urgent appeals from villagers, Musharraf responded, “For heaven’s sake, bear with us.”
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