As the death toll soared past 20,000 people, faith-based disaster response organizations were responding after a major Asian earthquake Sunday.
The 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, triggering landslides, burying entire villages and collapsing homes and apartment buildings. The death toll is expected to climb even higher.
Dozens of homes, schools, mosques and government buildings were damaged. More than 45,000 people were injured.
The worst damage appeared to be in Pakistan, where some government leaders were calling the earthquake the worst disaster in the country's history. The quake was centered in the mountains of Pakistani Kashmir, near the Indian border, about 60 miles northeast of Islamabad. Officials in Pakistani Kashmir said they feared 30,000 people may have died there. At least 650 children perished when three schools collapsed.
Northern Pakistani government officials reported severe damage. Early government assessments indicate several villages have been entirely destroyed. Pakistan army crews were conducting search-and-rescue operations - hampered by rain and hail - in the worst hit areas.
Damage was also reported in India - where at least 300 people were dead - and Afghanistan.
Aftershocks continued to rock the area through the weekend. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported at least five aftershocks in Pakistan, with the strongest measuring magnitude 6.3 and located about 70 miles north of Islamabad. USGS scientists warned aftershocks could continue for two more days.
The United Nations was working with all three affected countries on an emergency response to the quake. Search-and-rescue teams and financial aid were streaming into the affected areas from around the world.
Members of Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global alliance of churches and related agencies that respond to disasters, were assessing damages and planning a response.
Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan (CWS-P/A) is monitoring the situation there through its offices in Kabul and Jalalabad. CWS-P/A was working in close coordination with international and local organizations, and with local authorities responding in the affected areas. CWS-P/A offices in Karachi, Islamabad, Mansehra and Murree were organizing relief efforts and planning to address needs on the ground.
CWS's immediate plans were to provide 950 families with emergency food packages in the most affected and remote areas. CWS then plans to expand its relief efforts to provide 10,000 families with relief supplies and shelter construction materials.
Groups outside of the ACT network were also responding. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) sent an emergency team to the affected areas to conduct damage assessments. CRS reported its representatives met with local military and government officials for collaboration on relief efforts. CRS is currently working with Islamic Relief and Oxfam UK.
"Access in the region is difficult, as the area of the epicenter is extremely mountainous, with narrow roads often blocked by slides," said Jack Norman, CRS Pakistan country representative. "Areas of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir are heavily hit and, given our past experience responding to winter storms and floods in the region, we anticipate significant difficulties delivering relief supplies in this area."
In addition, relief groups associated with the U.S.-based Muslim Hurricane Relief Task Force are offering aid to areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
Churches throughout the U.S. and worldwide remembered the affected quake survivors with prayers on Sunday.
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