Pakistan Earthquake Death Toll Near 40,000

The death toll in Pakistan's devastating earthquake rose to nearly 40,000 on Saturday, while rain, snow and frigidly cold weather compounded the misery of millions of homeless victims and grounded some relief flights a week after the disaster.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) said the grim numbers -- 38,000 dead and 62,000 injured in Pakistan alone -- are likely to get even worse in coming days as rescue and recovery teams reach more communities, some still virtually untouched since the Oct. 8 quake.

"I think it will keep rising when we go into the valleys," the president told a news conference in Rawalpindi, near the capital.

Musharraf said the greatest need now is for tents to shelter an estimated 2 million homeless survivors ahead of the harsh Himalayan winter. Snow has already fallen in some parts of the region and temperatures have begun to drop.

Heavy rain began falling early Saturday in many quake-hit towns and snow fell in the surrounding mountains, disrupting relief efforts.

"The main thing we need is tents," said the president. "We are asking everyone to give us tents." Musharraf also said a "president's rehabilitation initiative" was being created to decide how devastated areas could be rebuilt, and whether individual villages would be rebuilt in the same locations or moved elsewhere. The initiative will be headed by the army's top engineer.

Helicopter relief flights -- which have been ferrying supplies into the quake zone and ferrying out the injured -- were halted for about an hour and a half Saturday morning before resuming, except to the northern town of Balakot where the weather was particularly bad.

With temperatures down to 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit), hundreds of injured, cold and terrified people waited by the helipad Saturday morning.

Musharraf said some rescue efforts continued even as the overwhelming thrust of operations turned to relief and disease prevention.

"There are rescue operations going on, but after eight days it's going to be a miracle" to save anyone else, he said. "From a medical point of view we don't want epidemics to spread, and that's why we are continuing (clearing bodies)."

In addition to the Pakistani dead, more than 1,350 people have died in neighboring India.

The official toll, which previously stood at 25,000, rose sharply because more bodies have been pulled from the rubble in recent days, army officials said.

At 8:51 a.m., thousands of Muslims gathered at Islamabad's towering Faisal mosque for special prayers for the dead -- exactly a week after the temblor.

Prayer leader Qari Nauman Ahmad urged people to donate what they could to quake victims and seek God's forgiveness, saying continuing aftershocks were a sign that God was not happy.

Early Saturday, a magnitude-5 aftershock struck the quake zone, but there were no immediate reports of damage or further injury. There have been more than 500 aftershocks over the past week.

Rescue workers abandoned the official search Friday for survivors trapped in the rubble, though individual efforts continued, with an 18-month-old girl reportedly pulled out alive from the ruins of her home in the town of Balimang, in the North West Frontier Province.

Four helicopters, two from the International Red Cross and two from the Pakistan army, landed in the devastated Kashmiri city of Muzaffarabad on Saturday morning, and another army spokesman Maj. Farooq Nasir said the relief operation was on but could change with the weather.

"There are still some affected areas that need to be reached," Sardar Anwar Khan, president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, told reporters in Muzaffarabad. "We desperately need more tents because the winter is on our heads."

More delays could be catastrophic.

Seven days after the magnitude-7.6 quake, many outlying villages have still seen no aid. UNICEF warned that thousands of children could die from cold, malnutrition and disease.

Jan Egeland (search), the U.N. undersecretary-general and emergency relief coordinator, said he feared bottlenecks of relief supplies.

"If we don't work together, we will become a disaster within a disaster," he said. He said it would take billions of dollars and "five to 10 years" to rebuild

Gary Walker, spokesman for Plan, a humanitarian organization working around Balakot, estimated that about 100,000 people in at least 50 surrounding communities urgently needed shelter. He said some donated tents were leaking and distribution was the main problem.

"We haven't even gone up in the mountains yet," Walker said.

Rehmatullah, a 70-year-old man who hiked to Balakot from a nearby village, pleaded for shelter.

"We have begged for tents from relief workers but they say there are no more," he said. "We're very worried as our families are staying in the open."

Overnight rains also prevented troops from getting relief to the three villages still cut off in Indian Kashmir, officials said Saturday.

Indian army soldiers on foot were trying to reach Taad, Shararat and Vayu -- all at least 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) up in the Himalayas -- said V.V. Vyas, a top provincial bureaucrat overseeing relief work.

A train carrying relief goods donated by India for Pakistani victims arrived in the eastern city of Lahore late Friday -- the latest gesture of friendship between the erstwhile enemies.

The aid included 12 tons of medicine, five tons of plastic sheets, 5,000 blankets and 370 tents. It was the second consignment of humanitarian aid from India, following relief goods sent earlier by plane.

Most of Pakistan's deaths were in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir.

The country's relief commissioner, Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmad Khan (search), said Pakistan expected to get 2 million blankets and 100,000 large tents before the onset of winter in about five weeks. He said 200,000 houses had been destroyed.