There are scenes of shock and desperation in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where the death toll from Saturday’s powerful earthquake has risen to between20,000 and 30,000. Rescue teams and residents are frantically searching for survivors. Cranes and earthmoving vehicles are available in some places, while in others families have had nothing but their bare hands to try to get through the rubble.
In the Pakistani town of Balakot, residents say they could hear voices under the ruins of a collapsed school, which was full of hundreds of children, but there was nothing they could do without assistance. While it is impossible to be precise on casualty figures, with rescuers still to reach many affected areas, local officials put the toll at 30,000 in Kashmir alone. Officials in the capital have given a figure of almost 20,000. That tally does not include the hundreds of deaths in other parts of Pakistan and northern India. Entire villages around the epicentre of the quake have been totally destroyed, and there are fears the death toll will rise even further once rescuers get to mountain communities. The quake hit just before nine o’clock in the morning local time, meaning that hundreds of children had just arrived at school. As well as the tragedy at Balakot, 850 children were reportedly trapped in the rubble of two collapsed schools in the Northwest Frontier Province. Rescue efforts have been hampered by frequent aftershocks, causing panic among survivors. Many people in the devastated capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, have been forced to camp out in fields and parks. Many houses, government buildings and shops there collapsed during the quake. Makeshift hospitals have been set up to treat the injured.