Authorities report that the death toll from the powerful earthquake that struck Northwestern Pakistan, India and parts of Afghanistan on Saturday, Oct. 8, has risen to more than 20,000, with many people unaccounted for as of early Monday.
While Pakistan took the worst of it, authorities indicated that some 2,000 people may have died in neighboring India. Meantime, the fate of about 10,000 people living in remote villages on the border with Pakistan was not known.
In Islamabad, European, Arab and Japanese nationals were among some 45 people missing two days after Saturday’s quake brought down two apartment blocks.
The extent of the devastation wrought by the quake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, is now becoming apparent, as rescue workers continue to dig through the wreckage and begin to reach outlying villages buried in debris. One BBC reported described the scene as worse than the Bam Earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami with nothing left alive in the rubble.
The quake is strongest to hit the area in 100 years. At the epicenter near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, there is almost total destruction. The death toll will undoubtedly rise. According to a report from AFP, local officials believe as many as 30,000 people have probably lost their lives in that region alone.
On the Indian side of the disputed border more than 300 people are reported to have been killed, but the extent of the calamity is apparently a good deal less. Indian and Pakistani authorities are cooperating in rescue efforts.
In addition to the collapsed buildings, tons of rock and dirt tumbled down the steep mountainsides and valleys of the region, burying outlying villages and small towns under a mass of debris. Authorities have concentrated efforts on repairing infrastructure, mainly roads, in order to gain access to the stricken areas. So far helicopters have undertaken the bulk of rescue operations in outlying regions.
President Bush issued a statement that “the people of the United States offer our deepest sympathies for the loss of life and destruction.” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life,” and promised UN help in coordinating rescue efforts.
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