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Death Toll Rising in South Asia Earthquake

09 October 2005

Frantic rescue efforts continue as the death toll from South Asia's massive earthquake tops 18,000, most of them in Pakistan. There are reports the number of dead could pass 25,000 in Pakistan alone.

In an official statement, Maj. General Shaukat Sultan says the bulk of the deaths are in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, where Saturday's 7.6 magnitude quake was centered.

General Sultan says the death toll will continue to rise as rescue workers reach the hardest hit areas.

Hundreds of deaths also are being reported in other parts of Pakistan and in the Indian portion of Kashmir.

From the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, residents are describing scenes of nearly absolute destruction.

Landslides triggered by the quake reportedly have wiped out entire villages.

The region's capital city, Muzaffarabad, has been devastated, houses and major infrastructure reportedly lying in ruins.

Rescue workers say key access roads remain blocked by debris and mudslides.

General Sultan says soldiers are trying to restore the main road linking Kashmir to the rest of Pakistan, to allow urgently needed aid to pass through.

In the neighboring Northwest Frontier Province authorities say hundreds of children were killed when their schools collapsed trapping them beneath the concrete rubble.

The United Nations is helping coordinate relief operations for international aid agencies.

Senior U.N. staff member Haoliang Xu says assessment teams are compiling lists of affected areas and available supplies.

"At this time clearly you need shelter, water food and medicine. Secondly, we're organizing a couple of surgery teams," said Haoliang Xu.

For now, aid is being ferried into many communities by helicopter while relief agencies ready supplies and wait for the roads to be cleared.

Relief workers warn thousands of people are now homeless just as winter weather hits Kashmir's mountainous communities.

In Islamabad, rescue workers continue to dig through what remains of a 10-story apartment building that caved in Saturday morning.

Officials say more than 80 people have been rescued but many more are feared dead and still buried in the rubble.

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