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Hundreds Dead in Powerful South Asian Earthquake

08 October 2005

Massive relief efforts are underway in South Asia, after a powerful earthquake and massive aftershocks rocked the region Saturday morning. Officials say the 7.6 magnitude earthquake, centered in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, has killed over a thousand people and toppled buildings, including two schools where hundreds of children were trapped and feared killed.

The quake was felt from Afghanistan to India, but the worst damage appeared to be in Pakistan, where it is being described as the worst earthquake to hit the country in more than a century.

Officials in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province say two schools collapsed, burying hundreds of students under the rubble.  Landslides in Kashmir have wiped out entire villages, and reports of fresh casualties continue to pour in through the night. Military authorities say more than 200 soldiers in Kashmir are among the dead.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz urged calm. "We are in the process now of sizing up the damage, evacuating people, those who are trapped in their homes and under rubble," he said. "We are rushing medical aid and food and temporary accommodation to the affected areas."

In the capital, Islamabad, a 10-story residential building collapsed. Officials worked into the night, rescuing more than 40 people from the debris, but officials fear many more may still be trapped beneath the rubble.

After surveying the scene Saturday afternoon, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf quickly briefed reporters in Islamabad. He said the earthquake is a test for the entire country, but he remains confident the nation will prevail.

Aid agencies say they have already sent assessment teams to Pakistan's hardest hit areas, and will begin delivering food and shelter in the coming days.

But relief workers say the mudslides have blocked roads in Kashmir, and, in many cases, the affected areas can only be reached by helicopter.

Further complicating matters, torrential rains buffeted the region Saturday night, sharply increasing the risk of fresh mudslides.

Meanwhile, reports of collapsed buildings and deaths from Afghanistan and India, where officials say more than 300 people are dead, confirm the earthquake's powerful reach.

Strong aftershocks shook the region throughout the day, and authorities warned that further building collapses are possible.

Pakistan says it is reviewing offers of assistance from around the world. The United Nations is working with the affected governments to coordinate an emergency response plan. President Bush and other world leaders offered condolences.

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