South Asia Quake Toll Nears 80,000

Two strong aftershocks from South Asia's deadly earthquake shook the devastated region on Wednesday, unleashing landslides and setting off another wave of panic among survivors who lost loved ones and homes in the Oct. 8 disaster. A new tally from regional officials pushed the death toll to 79,000.

Despite brisk sorties of helicopters delivering aid to quake victims, an estimated half-million survivors, many of them in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir (search), have yet to receive any help since the monster 7.6-magnitude quake leveled entire villages. Thousands need urgent medical care.

The situation is the most dire in the estimated 1,000 settlements outside the main cities and towns, said regional U.N. disaster coordinator Rob Holden.

"Many people out there, we are not going to get to in time," Holden said. "Some people who have injuries don't have a chance of survival."

On Wednesday, Asif Iqbal Daudzai, information minister for Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (search), said 37,958 people died in the province and at least 23,172 were injured, the vast majority of them in Mansehra district. He said the figures were based on reports from local government and hospital officials, and that the toll was likely to rise.

The prime minister of neighboring Pakistani-held Kashmir, Sikander Hayat Khan, said at least 40,000 people died in that region. India has reported 1,360 deaths in the part of Kashmir that it controls.

Pakistan's central government has said the death toll from North West Frontier Province (search) and Pakistani-held Kashmir was a total of 42,000, and expected to rise. The central count has lagged behind the local count since the early days of the disaster.

Wednesday morning's 5.8-magnitude aftershock struck 80 miles north of Islamabad, near the epicenter of the main quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (search). It was followed by another in the same area about 45 minutes later that registered 5.6.

The first aftershock caused a landslide in Balakot, one of the cities hardest hit by the initial quake. Debris covered the road to nearby Mansehra, but it was quickly cleared, said Pakistani Army Lt. Col. Saeed Iqbal, who is in charge of relief efforts in the area.

A landslide also blocked a road out of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, but it was expected to be cleared quickly.

Iqbal said the aftershock was "very heavy" and that he saw dust rising from the Kaghan Valley north of Balakot, possibly indicating an additional landslide.

In Indian-held Kashmir, the new tremors startled thousands of people in relief camps, including those in the worst-hit Uri and Tangdar districts close to the boundary with Pakistan-held territory. Police said there were no reports of landslides or damage to buildings.

Hundreds of aftershocks have struck the region since the Oct. 8 quake.

"They're not over," said Waverly Person, a seismologist at the U.S. quake center. "For a shallow-depth earthquake like this they go on, sometimes for a year."

In Balakot, villagers scavenged for food, clothes or building material.

"We need help," said resident Basim Qassir. "There's been deliveries, but it's just not enough."

On a tour of Balakot, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) said he expected reconstruction of the area to take years, and that the government would try to get prefabricated homes for victims.

In Beijing, the U.N.'s top relief coordinator on Wednesday said the international community was not doing enough to help and should step up relief efforts.

Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, urged China to help because it borders the hard-hit area of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and has a stockpile of winterized tents.

Egeland asked China for 20,000 tents, 10 helicopters and as much cash as possible — hinting at $20 million. Beijing, a close ally of Pakistan, has already pledged $6.2 million directly to Islamabad and sent tents, blankets, water purifying tablets, rescue equipment and a search team.

India was mulling Pakistan's proposal to help quake victims in Kashmir by allowing residents to cross the frontier that divides the disputed territory between them, the latest sign of cooperation between the nuclear-armed rivals since this month's disaster.

India, which has sent quake relief supplies to Pakistan, hailed the plan but said it was awaiting details.

Also on Wednesday, residents of Indian-controlled Kashmir made the first phone calls to the Pakistani side of the Himalayan territory in 15 years, trying to find out what's become of loved ones since the massive South Asian quake, police said.

New Delhi (search) cut communications between its Jammu-Kashmir state and all of Pakistan in 1990 in an effort to stymie an Islamic insurgency there that it charged was being run from Pakistan, an allegation Islamabad denies. Pakistanis can, however, still make direct calls to Indian Kashmir.

At least 54,000 people died in the disaster, most of them in the Pakistani-held part of divided Kashmir. The toll includes 1,361 deaths reported by India on its side of the militarized boundary separating the Himalayan region.