"Our rough estimates say more than 30,000 people have died in the earthquake in Kashmir," minister Tariq Farooq said on Sunday.
"There are cities, there are towns which have been completely
destroyed. Muzaffarabad is devastated," he added, referring to the capital of Pakistan's sector of disputed Kashmir.
Pakistan's private Aaj television reported the toll in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and northwest Pakistan to be more than 25,000. It did not cite a source. Officials have said the toll will rise.
Bodies lay in the streets and villagers pulled debris from collapsed schools and mud-brick homes with their bare hands on Sunday, desperate to find survivors from the 7.6-magnitude quake that struck Pakistan and India.
The quake that struck the mountainous Kashmir region flattened dozens of villages, killing farmers, homemakers, soldiers and schoolgirls, and triggered landslides that blocked rescuers from reaching many devastated areas.
Pakistan hardest hit
The severest destruction was in Pakistan, where Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said on Sunday that 19,136 people were confirmed to have died - 17,388 of them in Pakistani Kashmir where the quake was centred.
A further 42,397 were confirmed injured, he added.
A team of British rescue workers
at an Islamabad collapsed building
Chief military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said: "We are handling the worst disaster in Pakistan's history."
The earthquake, which struck just before 9am, caused buildings to sway for about a minute in the capitals of
Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, an area about 1000km across.
Aftershocks rattled the region for hours afterwards, and
hospitals moved quake victims onto lawns, fearing tremors
could cause more damage.
The US Geological Survey reported 22 aftershocks in the
24 hours after the quake, including a 6.2-magnitude
On Sunday, Pakistani military helicopters ferried troops and supplies to some areas, but there was no sign of government help in Balakot, a northern village of 30,000 where the quake levelled the main bazaar, crushing shoppers.
Injured people covered by shawls lay in the street, waiting for medical care. Residents carried bodies on wooden planks. The bodies of four children, aged between four and six years old, lay under a sheet of corrugated iron. Relatives said they were trying to find sheets to wrap the bodies.
"We don't have anything to bury them with," said a cousin, Saqib Swati.
Nearby, Faizan Farooq, a 19-year-old business administration student, stood outside the rubble of his four-storey school, where at least 250 pupils were feared trapped. Dozens of villagers, some with sledgehammers but many without any tools, pulled at the debris and carried away bodies.
Some victims have lamented the
lack of help from the government
Farooq said he could hear children under the rubble crying for help immediately after the disaster.
"Now there's no sign of life," he said. "We can't do this without the army's help. Nobody has come here to help us."
Elsewhere in Balakot, shop owner Mohammed Iqbal said two
primary schools, one for boys and one for girls, also collapsed.
He estimated that more than 500 students had been killed.
India reported at least 360 people killed and 900 injured when the quake collapsed houses and other buildings in Jammu-Kashmir state. Most of the deaths occurred in the border towns of Uri, Tangdar and Punch and in the city of Srinagar, said B B Vyas, the state's divisional commissioner.
Afghanistan reported one death: An 11-year-old girl crushed when a wall in her home collapsed, police official Gafar Khan said.
An eight-member UN team of top disaster coordination officials was due to arrive in Islamabad on Sunday to plan the global body's response.