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WORLD

Leaders plead for help after Asia quake

Tremor leaves 22,000 dead, demolishes villages

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Pakistan
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Pervez Musharraf

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- A day after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed about 22,000 people in northern Pakistan and India, government officials pleaded Sunday for international assistance to help dig survivors from the rubble, take them to hospitals and begin repairing the country's shattered infrastructure.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, flew Sunday over flattened towns along the northwest frontier and over Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said 43,000 people were injured in the quake, which struck shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday (midnight Friday EDT) 100 kilometers (60 miles) north-northeast of the Pakistani capital. (See video on rising death toll -- 2:37)

Casualty figures "will certainly go up," he told CNN's "Late Edition."

Two major hospitals were badly damaged, and a massive relief effort was under way, with the government working to set up temporary medical centers and evacuating the injured in helicopters, Aziz said.

He appealed to the international community to send heavy-lift helicopters, as well as tents, blankets, medicine and "hundreds of millions of dollars" to help rebuild the infrastructure.

"Some of the towns have been flattened, so there's nothing there," Aziz said.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said he promised help during a telephone conversation with Musharraf.

"I expressed our nation's deepest condolences, and I told him we want to help in any way we can," Bush told reporters Sunday. "To that end, we've already started to send cash money and other equipment and goods that are going to be needed."

The United States is moving eight helicopters "immediately," Defense Department Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a statement.

The five CH-47 Chinook helicopters and three UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are to be sent from Afghanistan and will arrive Monday, said the U.S. military's Central Command in a written statement. (U.S. response)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said ties to Pakistan "are made even closer by the large population of British citizens who trace their origin to the Kashmir region. Such ties make the growing number of casualties even harder to bear."

The United Nations has been coordinating relief efforts from the international airport in Islamabad, said Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs.

A U.N. team arrived there at dawn Sunday, he said, and the operation was "growing by the hour."

But the need is staggering, Egeland added, saying the number of homeless rivals that of people left without shelter after last year's tsunami in South Asia.

"There will be need for hundreds of thousands of tents and emergency shelter for all the people who have lost everything," he said.

Faiza Janmohammad, country director of aid group Mercy Corps, said Pakistan's death toll was about 40,000, but the source of her information was not clear.

"This is the number we have been hearing in the international organizations' coordination meetings as well as out in the field," she said.

Confusion over death tolls is common after such disasters, and confirmed tolls frequently are far lower than initial estimates.

The source of the confusion is clear: Much of the terrain is inaccessible as a result of landslides that blocked roads, and communications were cut in many areas.

An apartment building in Islamabad collapsed, but the city was spared the worst of the damage.

Rescue workers were slowly and methodically digging through that building's debris to reach a survivor who spoke to them via ultra-sensitive microphones that were threaded through the rubble. (See video on survivors pulled from rubble -- 1:34)

Journalist Syed Talat Hussain in Islamabad told CNN that he felt the earthquake, ran from his apartment building with his two children and looked up to see a 19-story building "shaking like a reed in the wind." (More witness accounts)

Coffins are in great demand in the city, he said.

"In certain areas, the entire villages -- they have collapsed," Pakistan's military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, told CNN.

A second emergency team from Britain arrived Sunday in Islamabad, the Foreign Office said, bringing fire brigades and search dogs.

Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said at least 17,000 of the deaths occurred in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Another military spokesman, Brig. Shah Jahan, said relief and rescue workers had yet to reach 30 to 40 percent of the affected areas.

Witnesses said the city of Balakot, in the North-West Frontier Province, is destroyed. "It is likely the ground zero," Sultan told CNN.

Buildings in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, also suffered heavy damage, and there was a high casualty toll. Among the structures damaged there was a Pakistani army hospital.

Mass burials could be seen taking place in the city.

Three days of mourning

The Pakistani government declared three days of mourning for victims, from Sunday until Tuesday.

The military was focused on evacuating injured people, establishing forward bases and opening communications, Sultan said. Bad weather initially hampered efforts, but the heavy rain stopped Sunday and conditions improved.

Stunned Pakistanis, many covered with blood, camped out in the streets overnight, fearful of returning home because of aftershocks. One aftershock measured 6.2 in magnitude.

Some slept in their cars, while others gathered in outdoor areas such as soccer fields. As of early Sunday, more than 20 aftershocks of 4.5 magnitude or greater had rattled the region.

From Indian-controlled Kashmir, Time magazine's South Asia Bureau Chief Alex Perry said he visited three villages that had been "destroyed."

Despite the widespread damage and pressing humanitarian needs, security concerns remained paramount, he said.

"There's no doubt at all that it's still a military zone," he said, adding that military checkpoints were holding up the passage of aid to the region.

"There is an immediate fear that this might be an opportunity for militants to start pouring over the border from Pakistan into Kashmir," he said.

But political tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region appeared to take a back seat as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Musharraf and offered help.

"We have offered all possible assistance for rescue and relief measures," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told CNN from New Delhi.

"We see this as a major humanitarian disaster for the people of this region."

Musharraf said he thanked the Indian leader for the offer. "Whatever we need, we will certainly ask," he said, though he noted that there is "a little bit of sensitivity there."

The two nations have fought three wars -- two of them over Kashmir -- since independence from British rule in 1947.

In addition, international governments and relief agencies were mobilizing to help victims. (Details)

Although the majority of Indian-controlled Kashmir was spared the damage and devastation that occurred across the border, an estimated 80 percent of the border town of Udi, India, was destroyed.

The total death toll also extended to Afghanistan, where a girl in Jalalabad died when a wall of her home collapsed -- and more than 500 in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

A U.S. soldier told CNN the quake was felt in Kabul, but "effects were minimal."

Mukhtar Ahmed, Satinder Bindra, Matthew Chance, Tom Coghlan, Syed Mohsin Naqvi, John Raedler and Ram Ramgopal contributed to this report.

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