Source Pravda.Ru

More than 18,000 killed in Pakistani Kashmir

The death toll from a huge earthquake that struck Pakistan, India and Afghanistan went above 18,000 on Sunday, the Pakistani army spokesman said, as rescuers struggled to dig victims from destroyed apartment buildings, schools and mud-brick homes.

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told Pakistan's Geo television network early Sunday that more than 18,000 had been killed, 17,000 of them in Pakistani Kashmir, where Saturday's 7.6-magnitude quake was centered. Some 41,000 people were injured, he said.

The United Nations sent emergency coordinators to worst-hit Pakistan on Sunday to prepare the global body's response to an earthquake that sparked landslides and razed entire villages. Pakistan's dead included 250 girls crushed at a school.

Rescuers grappled with rain that turned dirt and debris into sticky muck while aftershocks rattled an area stretching from Afghanistan across northern Pakistan into India's portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. Hospitals moved quake victims onto lawns, fearing tremors could cause more damage.

In Pakistan's northwestern district of Mansehra, a shopowner named Haji Fazal Ilahi stood vigil over the body of his 14-year-old daughter, which lay under a sheet on a hospital mattress. He said his wife, another daughter and a brother also died when the family's house fell.

India's government offered condolences and assistance to Pakistan, a longtime rival with which it has been pursuing peace after fighting three wars since independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

India reported at least 250 people killed and 800 injured when the quake collapsed 2,700 houses and other buildings in Jammu-Kashmir state. Most of the deaths occurred in the border towns of Uri, Tangdar and Punch and in the city of Srinagar, said B.B. Vyas, the state's divisional commissioner. Telephone lines were down.

Ataullah Khan Wazir, police chief in Mansehra, said authorities there pulled the bodies of 250 students from the wreckage of one girls' school in the village of Ghari Habibibullah. About 500 students were injured, he said.

Afghanistan appeared to suffer the least damage. In its east, an 11-year-old girl was crushed to death when a wall in her home collapsed, police official Gafar Khan said. An eight-member U.N. team of top disaster coordination officials was due to arrive in Islamabad on Sunday to plan the global body's response. U.S. President George W. Bush offered condolences, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States was ready to help. In Pakistan, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz ordered the military to extend "all-out help" to quake-hit areas and appealed to the nation to stay calm. Helicopters and C-130 transport planes took troops and supplies to damaged areas, but landslides and rain hindered rescue efforts.

The only serious damage reported in Pakistan's capital was the collapse of a 10-story apartment building, where at least 10 people were killed and 126 were injured. Hospital doctors said the dead included an Egyptian diplomat, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said two Japanese were killed, AP reports.

А. А.

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