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Earthquake Death Toll Rises in Indian Kashmir


Search operations are under way in Indian Kashmir - one of the areas devastated by the powerful earthquake that rocked India, Pakistan and Afghanistan Saturday. Authorities say nearly 600 people have died in the Indian controlled section of the disputed Himalayan region.

For a second day, soldiers and volunteers dug into the rubble of homes to locate survivors and pull the dead from towns and villages in Indian Kashmir. Rescue teams also began the trek to the more isolated regions affected by the quake as overnight rain cleared.

The quake struck close to the line of control dividing disputed Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

The Indian controlled area appears to have suffered less damage than that controlled by Pakistan but authorities say they cannot assess the damage accurately until they reach isolated areas.

Efforts to clear roads buried under landslides are in full swing. The army has opened the main highway that connects Kashmir to the rest of India, and teams of doctors and Red Cross volunteers are on their way.

The army is also using helicopters to ferry medicines, food and water to thousands of homeless residents.

Air Force Vice Chief Ajit Bhavnani says his service is evacuating the injured.

"We were told to start arranging for air lift as well as heli-lift capability. Today also we have a large number of our airfields put on full alert, and our transport and helicopter crew are ready on a 24-hour basis," he said.

But many survivors are complaining that aid has been slow. In affected areas, some people said they had been forced to spend the night in the open, using wood from ruined homes to light fires.

A resident of a town destroyed by the quake says they had no food and no warm clothes to cope with the cold and rain, and many children were among the thousands who spent the night in the fields.

Survivors faced further trauma as aftershocks rocked the region throughout the night. The quake is the most powerful to hit the region for decades.

As well as mounting rescue efforts on its own territory, India has offered to help Pakistan with its relief efforts. The neighboring countries have fought two wars over Kashmir but for the past two years have been engaged in a peace process.

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