Islamabad/ Baramulla, Oct. 8: India and Pakistan were tied together in tragedy today by a natural phenomenon far more unfathomable than the manmade factors that led to Partition over half-a-century ago.
A mighty earthquake killed thousands in Pakistan and hundreds in India at 9.20 am (IST) today, sending tremors across the entire northern region.
Pakistan, where the epicentre was located, bore the brunt with as many as 400 children reported killed in two schools and two apartment blocks in an affluent locality reduced to ruins. Over 1,000 died in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, 850 in North West Frontier Province and 300 in Jammu and Kashmir amid collapsing buildings and bunkers.
“Everything around me was swinging,” said Mohammad Zaman, 55, in Srinagar. “The earth was heaving, the houses were shaking, the mighty Chinars were swaying forwards and backwards. I thought doomsday had arrived.”
On the Line of Control, shelters turned death traps with at least 36 soldiers entombed in their bunkers on the Indian side. Across the border, Pakistan counted 200 “martyrs” among its troops.
The quake was centred 90 km northeast of Islamabad and 125 km northwest of Srinagar; but the wobble was felt from Kabul to Delhi to the faraway coasts of Gujarat and Chittagong, triggering panic on streets and in homes across towns and villages.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and other top Congress leaders 'discussing the political tremors that hit the party with yesterday’s court verdict on Bihar ' were rushed out of their Chandigarh conclave venue as the doors and windows began to rattle.
By then, villages had vanished and towns turned to rubble in the northern mountains and valleys.
In Jammu and Kashmir, Uri town was the worst hit, with 130 dead. “Eighty per cent houses have either caved in or developed cracks in the town,” said Javed Mukhdoomi, state inspector-general of police.
In Islamabad, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf visited the site where two blocks of a 10-storey apartment building had come crashing down, trapping over 100 residents, their moans audible between the wails of ambulance sirens on the streets. The government said all Indians in the capital were safe.
Manmohan Singh sent a message of solidarity to the Pakistan President, saying: “While parts of India have also suffered' we are prepared to extend any assistance with rescue and relief which you may deem appropriate.”
Singh and Musharraf later spoke to each other and exchanged offers of help. They also agreed to stay in touch regularly till rescue-and-relief operations stabilise.
Britain and the European Union promptly offered help, with global aid agency Oxfam appealing for an urgent supply of “winterised tents and blankets” for the “most-affected” Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Hundreds of houses have collapsed in Jammu and Kashmir, too, where hospitals are crammed with patients.
Landslides have cut off Srinagar from the rest of India and also blocked the road to Muzaffarabad, reopened to traffic earlier this year after six decades.