Quake death toll rises to 30,000 in worst-hit Pakistan


Pakistani rescue workers gather at the site of a building damaged by an earthquake in Islamabad

The death toll from a huge south Asia earthquake rose to over 30,000 in worst-hit Pakistan alone today, as rescuers dug out hundreds of dead children buried under schools and found towns and villages reduced to rubble.

Teams laboured with cranes and earth-moving equipment or used their bare hands in a desperate search for survivors trapped beneath the rubble from yesterday's quake.

Striking out from the forest clad mountains of Pakistani Kashmir near the border with India, the quake was the strongest to hit south Asia in a century.

"It's total devastation. It looks like the city of death," said one Reuters reporter, who was in the capital Islamabad when the earthquake struck but managed to get back to his home town of Muzaffarabad, in Pakistani Kashmir, today.

The communications minister for the region said: "I have been informed by my department that more than 30,000 people have died in Kashmir".

Earlier the Pakistani Interior Minister said there were 19,400 people confirmed dead already.

An aerial view taken shows the worst hit town of Balakot in Pakistan's northwestern frontier province
An aerial view taken shows the worst hit town of Balakot in Pakistan's northwestern frontier province

A further 40,000 people were injured in the 7.6 magnitude quake that struck at about 8.50am (local time) yesterday which the authorities are calling the worst devastation in Pakistan's history.

"There are many villages that have been wiped off the face of this earth," a spokesman said.

Many areas had not been reached because landslides triggered by the quake had wiped out roads, he said. The quake also battered Indian Kashmir, killing more than

558 people there, but it was Pakistan's side of the disputed Himalayan region that was worst hit with the majority of deaths there, a military official said.

Private Geo TV said a military hospital in the small mountain city had been destroyed and injured people were lying in the courtyard of the one working hospital waiting for attention from doctors struggling to cope.

The US Geological Survey said the tremor occurred at a depth of 10km (6.2 miles).

It struck about 95 km (60 miles) northeast of Islamabad and was felt across the subcontinent, shaking buildings in the Afghan, Indian and Bangladeshi capitals.

The first quake was followed over the next 18 hours by more than 20 aftershocks with magnitudes of between 4.5 and 6.3. Thousands of people in northern Pakistan slept in the open while residents of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, were kept on edge through the night by tremors.

Some 400 children were killed at two schools in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.

A military spokesman said 215 Pakistani soldiers were killed in the hardest-hit areas.

Half of the Indian deaths were in Uri, the last big town on the road connecting the two sides of the violence-scarred region.

The dead included 15 soldiers, some in bunkers close to a military ceasefire line.

Landslides blocked the 300-km (190-mile) road that connects Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, to the rest of India to the south.

The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road linking Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, reopened to traffic this year for the first time in nearly 60 years, was also blocked.

An official at the Pakistan Meteorological Department said it was the strongest earthquake in South Asia since the 1905 Kangra earthquake that killed 20,000 people in India's Madhya Pradesh state.

In Islamabad, rescuers found at least two survivors clinging to life in the ruins of apartment blocks that crashed down on scores of residents.

Twenty-three bodies had been found but about 90 people were pulled alive from the Margala Towers blocks where expatriate workers and middle-class Pakistanis lived, officials said.

A boy was pulled out alive this morning to the cheers of rescue workers who said there were other survivors still trapped.