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Earthquake Casualty Count Soars in Pakistan


The official death toll in Pakistan from last week's massive South Asia earthquake has risen to 38,000, with thousands more injured and millions homeless. Aftershocks and bad weather continue to hamper relief efforts.

Freezing rain and thunderstorms in many of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake disrupted relief efforts Saturday morning, forcing some aid agencies to briefly suspend or scale back operations.

But rescue teams continued to work throughout the day, pulling bodies from thousands of collapsed buildings near the epicenter of the 7.6 magnitude quake in Pakistani controlled Kashmir.

On Saturday Pakistan army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan raised the official death toll from 25,000 to nearly 40,000 with another 62,000 injured.

He says the number is likely to increase as rescue teams reach previously inaccessible villages and more bodies are discovered in the rubble.

Emergency medical teams also warn health conditions in the isolated towns are rapidly deteriorating. Many survivors have serious injuries and need to be evacuated. Others are at risk from malnutrition or hypothermia.

Temperatures are dropping quickly in the Himalayan region of Kashmir and the neighboring Northwest Frontier Province.

The earthquake has left more than 2 million people homeless, many without even the most basic protection from the elements. One desperate resident says aid priorities are clear.

"The snow is already falling. It's raining. What we need is tents and blankets," he said.

Tents are being distributed in Muzaffarabad and Balakot, two of the cities most affected, but supplies are falling short. Many survivors in the makeshift camps have only thin plastic awnings to keep them dry.

Conditions are even worse a few kilometers outside the two cities, which are now hubs for the aid operations.

Scores of outlying villages, trapped behind blocked roads and rugged mountain peaks have still not received any assistance and time is running out.

Dozens of countries, including the United States, have donated money and aid, but the United Nations says helicopters, heavy lifting equipment, winterized tents and medical supplies are still desperately needed.

In addition to the bad weather, aftershocks are impeding relief efforts, with more than 500 felt during the past seven days.

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