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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 21:12 GMT 22:12 UK

World: South Asia

Quake death toll nears 100

Thousands of homes were completely destroyed

Relief operations are gathering momentum in the remote region of northern India which was hit by a severe earthquake in the early hours of Monday.

Nearly 100 people are now known to have died, almost all as houses collapsed during the earthquake which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale.

Mike Wooldridge reports: "The scale of the tragedy becomes clear"
The 40-second quake, which was centred on Chamoli in Uttar Pradesh, was the strongest to hit the Himalayan foothills in more than 90 years.

Officials fear the final death toll could climb much higher.

Relief operation underway

Rescue operations are being led by the army, using helicopters to ferry in supplies.

[ image: The strongest quake to hit the area in 90 years]
The strongest quake to hit the area in 90 years
Operations have been hampered by landslides, power failures and the loss of communication links with Chamoli.

Hundreds of road workers have been sent in to clear landslide debris from a 16km stretch of road leading to the worst-affected area.

"It looks like half the mountain has come off," said Chamoli district magistrate Uma Kant Pawar.

Mike Wooldridge in the earthquake area
With an estimated 5,000 homes destroyed by the earthquake, the military have set up tents for at least some of those made homeless.

Many residents spent a second night in the open for fear of aftershocks.

Local residents have organised a committee to see that those worst affected receive food, but the district is appealing for more funds from the state to help deal with the emergency.

Families buried in rubble

The BBC Correspondent in Chamoli, Mike Wooldridge, says the worst damage was localised, with virtually all the houses and shops built on slopes in the lower part of the town succumbing to the earthquake.

[ image: Naresh Shah lost his daughter and four other relatives]
Naresh Shah lost his daughter and four other relatives
Five members of one family of seven perished, including a girl of four, who slipped off her unconscious father's lap and into the rubble.

Another man described how he picked among the debris of his house with a shovel throughout the night, only to find two buried relatives dead.

The tremors caused panic as far away as Delhi, 190 miles (300km) south of the epicentre.

Powerful tremors were felt in towns and cities throughout northern India, and also shook the western Indian city of Pune.

Pakistani officials reported Monday's quake was also felt in Lahore and Gujranwala which lie close to the border with India.

The officials said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent a message of sympathy to his Indian opposite number Atal Behari Vajpayee.

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