WASHINGTON – President Bush on Sunday offered help to earthquake-devastated Pakistan as desperate villagers in one community dug through rubble with their bare hands to find children inside a flattened school.
Pakistan's government has made an urgent appeal for international help as the death toll rose to more than 20,000 and could reach past 30,000, according to officials in the area.
Speaking in the Oval Office with the Pakistani Embassy's deputy chief of mission, Mohammad Sadiq, by his side, Bush said that the United States has already sent some financial aid -- the U.S. Agency for International Development sent $500,000 to the Red Cross in Pakistan on Saturday.
A second relief package in the form of emergency supplies, military helicopters and emergency management personnel was on its way. Two C-130 and a C-17 U.S. military aircraft containing blankets, winterized tents and other relief supplies were in motion already.
"We're moving choppers. Secretary Rumsfeld is surveying the assets they may be able to move in the area," Bush said. "Pakistan's a friend, and the United States government and the people of the United States will help as best as we possibly can.
"As I told the president, President Musharraf, I said a lot of Americans here will be asking for the almighty God's blessings on the people of Pakistan," he added.
After the president's remarks, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan announced it was sending five CH-47 Chinook helicopters and three UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and their crews to provide rescue, recovery and logistics assistance. They were expected to arrive in Pakistan on Monday.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has asked the international community to help provide helicopters, medicine, food, water, shelters and financial aid to the region.
"We do seek international assistance. We have enough manpower, but we need financial support ... to cope with the tragedy," Musharraf said.
Supplies were needed "to reach out to the people in far-flung and cut-off areas," he said in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital Islamabad, before leaving on a tour of devastated areas.
Musharraf also appealed to expatriate Pakistanis to help. "I hope you realize this hour of crisis to our nation and you will come forward with a large heart and in trying to alleviate the problems and the people's suffering and share in the load of the government."
The United States, the United Nations, Britain, Russia, China, Turkey, Japan and Germany have offered assistance. India, which reported more than 600 of its own as dead, also offered aid to nuclear rival Pakistan, where the majority of the devastation occurred.
The quake rumbled across a wide region of South Asia from central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh. It swayed buildings in the capitals of three nations, with the damage spanning at least 250 miles from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in northern Indian territory. In Islamabad, a 10-story building collapsed.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake's epicenter was about 60 miles northeast of Islamabad in the mountainous area of Pakistani Kashmir. The 7.7-magnitude earthquake is considered the worst on record in Pakistan.
At least 22 aftershocks were felt within 24 hours, including a 6.2-magnitude temblor. Hospitals moved quake victims onto lawns, fearing more damage, and many people spent the night in the open.
"We are handling the worst disaster in Pakistan's history," chief army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.
Kashmir is the disputed territory between India and Pakistan that is divided in its governance. The two nations have fought two wars over the area since the British withdrew in 1947.
A very poor region of the world, dozens of villages and towns in Kashmir collapsed, the result of construction made of mud and other cheap materials. One school that was crushed had 250 girls in it at the time. More than 200 Pakistani soldiers died while serving in the Himalayas.
Witnesses in Balakot, one of the hardest-hit areas near the epicenter of the quake, said that they had not seen help yet from the government. Landslides and rain have hindered rescue efforts by blocking roads to the area.
Also in Balakot, in the North West Frontier Province, the village's main bazaar folded from the quake, crushing shoppers and strewing gas cylinders, bricks, tomatoes and onions onto the street.
A dozen bodies laid near the ruins of one collapsed school, where 250 pupils were believed to have been inside the four-story structure.
Dozens of villagers, some with sledgehammers but many without tools, pulled at the debris and carried away bodies. Faizan Farooq, a 19-year-old business administration student, said he had heard children under the rubble crying for help immediately after Saturday's disaster.
"Now there's no sign of life," he said Sunday. "We can't do this without the army's help. Nobody has come here to help us."
Injured people covered by shawls lay in the street, waiting for medical care. Residents of the town with a population of 30,000 carried bodies on wooden planks. The corpses of four children, aged between 4 and 6, lay under a sheet of corrugated iron. Relatives said they were trying to find sheets to wrap the bodies.
"We don't have anything to bury them with," said a cousin, Saqib Swati.
Elsewhere in Balakot, shop owner Mohammed Iqbal said two primary schools, one for boys and one for girls, also collapsed. More than 500 students were feared dead.
In Pakistan's northwestern district of Mansehra, police chief Ataullah Khan Wazir said Saturday that authorities there pulled 250 bodies from the rubble of a girls' school in the village of Ghari Habibibullah. Dozens of children were feared killed in other schools.
Mansehra was believed to be a hotbed of Islamic militant activity during the time the Taliban religious militia ruled neighboring Afghanistan. Al Qaeda operatives trained suicide squads at a camp there, Afghan and Pakistani officials told The Associated Press in 2002.
At least 215 Pakistani soldiers died in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, Sultan said. On the India side of the border, at least 54 soldiers were killed when their bunkers collapsed, said Col. H. Juneja, an Indian army spokesman.
The devastation has left some experts concerned that relief efforts could interrupt the War on Terror, particularly in the Northwest Frontier Province, where the Taliban is tucked away.
Former Pakistan Ambassador to England, Akbar Ahmed told FOX News that if the United States does not respond quickly or generously, the natural disaster could possibly prevent Pakistan from containing the Taliban.
"The direct consequences of what is happening in Pakistan right now, the Pakistan army will be focused on the recovery and the coping with the disaster efforts, so its eye will be not on the ball on the War on Terror," Ahmed said.
He added that a quick and generous response could bolster the ability of Pakistan's military to maintain its presence in the region and keep the Taliban from gaining a foothold. The United States also needs to be thinking about the perception its assistance can provide in that Pakistanis view America as a superpower capable of diminishing the suffering of earthquake victims.
While the region where the Taliban are holed up is among the worst hit, the only serious damage reported in Islamabad was the collapse of the 10-story apartment building, where at least 24 people were killed and dozens injured. Doctors said the dead included an Egyptian diplomat, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said two Japanese were killed.
On Sunday, Pakistani rescue teams pulled two survivors from the rubble. The boy and woman, who were listed in stable condition, told doctors others were trapped alive and calling for help beneath the debris.
"These people heard voices and cries during the whole night," said Adil Inayat, a doctor at PIMS hospital in Islamabad.
The death toll in India rose Sunday to 600 after rescue workers and soldiers pulled out 90 more bodies in the frontier Tangdar region, 65 miles north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state. Collapsed houses and shops line the streets in towns and villages nestled in Tangdar's deep valleys as well as in the towns of Uri, Punch and Srinagar. Hundreds of people were injured.
Afghanistan reported four killed and the least amount of 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.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, said the quake was felt at Bagram, the main American base in Afghanistan, but there were no reports of damage at bases around the country.
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.
FOX News' Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.