The news they gave the president was grim.

"I was just told this is going to be the worst natural disaster in the nation's history," Mr. Bush says. "Thousands of people have died, thousands are wounded.  And the United States of America wants to help."

In a rare Sunday appearance at the White House, Mr. Bush offered his condolences and said initial aid is already on the way.   He said he discussed the matter earlier in the day with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

"Pakistan is a friend and the United States government and the people of the United States will help as best as we possibly can," Mr. Bush says.

Mr. Bush said eight U.S. military helicopters are being deployed to help with rescue efforts, and initial contributions of cash and supplies have been sent.

The president did not go into specific aid amounts.  But in an interview broadcast on American television, Pakistan's Prime Minister made clear the need for assistance is great.

Shaukat Aziz told CNN's Late Edition program that hundreds of millions of dollars will ultimately be needed to rebuild destroyed roads, housing, and other infrastructure.  He said for now, the emphasis is on moving recovery equipment to hard-hit areas and meeting basic humanitarian needs.

"Well, what we need most is tents which are for temporary accommodation; we need blankets because it is getting cold out there," Mr. Aziz says. "We need medicine."

The prime minister praised the spirit of the Pakistani people, who suffered the brunt of the loss from the earthquake, which also affected parts of India and Afghanistan.

"This is a major catastrophe which we are dealing with and I must say of the morale of the people, they are all jelling together, which helps," Mr. Aziz says. "And it also is a very traumatic experience for the people who have gone through this."

The trauma is felt as well by those Pakistanis who live far from the nation of their birth, including many who now reside in the United States.  Before leaving on a tour of quake-devastated areas, President Musharraf made an appeal for international help, including a special plea to Pakistanis abroad.

"God has given you a lot and today your nation requires your support," Mr. Musharraf says. "I request, I appeal to you to donate maximum in the President's Earthquake Relief Fund financially?  I hope you realize this hour of crisis to your nation and you will come forward with a large heart to try and alleviate the suffering of the people and share in the load of the government."

President Bush recently met informally with President Musharraf when both attended a U.N. summit in New York.  Mr. Bush has often referred to Pakistan as an important ally in the war on terror.  And after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. coast last month, Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan were among the first countries to offer assistance to victims of one of the worst natural disasters in American history.