By Masroor Gilani
Rescuers picking their way through rugged terrain and pockets of Taliban insurgency in the search for survivors after a massive quake hit Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing at least 277 people.
The toll is expected to rise as search teams reach remote areas that were cut off by the powerful 7.5 magnitude quake, which triggered landslides and stampedes as it toppled buildings and severed communication lines.
Residents including children and the elderly were helping with relief work, many of them digging beneath the rubble for survivors.
Pakistan's military has been mobilised and has sent medical teams, tents and rations to affected areas, while India said it stood ready to help.
In the most horrifying episode to emerge so far from Monday's quake (local time), 12 young Afghan girls were crushed to death in a stampede as they tried to flee their shaking school building.
The bulk of the casualties were reported from Pakistan, where 214 people were killed and more than 1800 injured, disaster management authorities said.
"Many houses and buildings have collapsed in the city," said Arbab Muhammad Asim, district mayor for the northwestern city of Peshawar, on Tuesday.
Many people were trapped under piles of rubble, with officials warning that the toll was set to rise.
"The building was swinging like a pendulum, it felt as if the heavens would fall," Peshawar shop owner Tufail Ahmed told AFP.Afghan officials said at least 63 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country's 34 provinces.
The government has implored aid agencies for assistance.
But large swathes of Badakhshan, the remote province where the epicentre is located, and other areas are effectively controlled by the Taliban, posing a huge challenge to any official aid efforts.
The Taliban, however, on Tuesday urged charity organisations not to hold back in delivering aid to the victims, saying militants in the affected areas were ordered to provide "complete help".
"The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) calls on ... charitable organisations to not hold back in providing shelter, food and medical supplies to the victims of this earthquake," the group said on its website.
"It similarly orders its Mujahideen in the affected areas to lend their complete help to the victims and facilitate those giving charity to the needy."
"Initial reports show a big loss of life and huge financial losses in Badakhshan, Takhar, Nangarhar, Kunar and other regions," said Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
"Exact numbers are not known because phone lines are down and communication has been cut off in many areas."
In remote northern Takhar, a dozen Afghan schoolgirls, all under 16, were trampled to death as they rushed to escape their classrooms when the quake struck.
Bystanders rushed the dazed and terrified survivors to hospital, many lying limp in the arms of their rescuers, as doctors tried reviving some of them by pumping their chests.
"When the relatives of the dead students came to collect their bodies, they were so distressed that they could not even talk to authorities to record their names," said Hafizullah Safai, head of the Takhar health department.
The quake was centred near Jurm in northeast Afghanistan, 250 kilometres from the capital Kabul and at a depth of 213.5 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.
The tremor, which lasted at least one minute, shook buildings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, sending thousands of frightened people rushing into the streets.
It was also felt in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Hundreds of people in northern India poured on to the streets from office blocks, hospitals and homes.
In Delhi, more than 1000 kilometres from the epicentre, the metro ground to a halt during the tremor.