More than 340 people were killed by a powerful earthquake that convulsed the Himalayan foothills Sunday, flattening tens of thousands of homes and triggering major landslides, police said.
The earthquake, which rippled through northern Uttar Pradesh state, caused massive destruction in at least two districts along the India-Tibet border. About 2,000 people were injured, the United News of India agency reported.
At least 500 people were feared trapped in the rubble of buildings that collapsed when the quake struck, Dehra Dun District Magistrate Shishir Priya Darshi said.
India's Seismology Department measured the 45-second quake at 6.1 while the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington put the magnitude at 7.1.
The top police official in Uttar Pradesh state, Director General Prakash Singh, said that 262 bodies were recovered in the Uttarkashi district, United News of India reported.
At least 59 people were killed in the Tehri district just south of Uttarkashi, the news agency said, quoting a local official.
Another 20 people were killed in the Chamoli district, police said. The victims included 15 pilgrims at a Hindu temple in Kedarnath, they reported.
A senior civil official in Dehra Dun said tens of thousands of homes were reported destroyed. United News of India said 400 villages were affected.
Army and paramilitary troops were dispatched to Uttarkashi and Chamoli. Four helicopters were ready to lift off at daybreak today with emergency supplies of rice, wheat and sugar and to start evacuating the injured, Darshi said.
The officials in Dehra Dun said police and rescuers were hampered by big landslides in the mountainous region, which can only be reached by tortuous and narrow roads.
Dehra Dun, the nearest city to Uttarkashi, has 250,000 inhabitants and is 120 miles north of New Delhi, the nation's capital.
Uttarkashi and Chamoli form a lush undulating terrain at the base of the Himalayan mountains and stretch 125 miles along the border with Chinese-ruled Tibet. No casualties were immediately reported in Tibet.
The epicenter of the earthquake was in the Almora district, 135 miles southeast of Uttarkashi. Initial surveys found no damage or casualties in Almora.
State Information Secretary Nripendra Mishra said that a 60-mile stretch between Uttarkashi and the Hindu pilgrim center of Gangotri was devastated by the earthquake.
"Our worry is how to reach the rescue workers there," Mishra said. Uttarkashi is about 7,200 feet above sea level and 280 miles north of the Uttar Pradesh state capital of Lucknow.
Officials said a hydro-electric power supply unit in Uttarkashi was also badly hit, and there was no electricity in the area.
Communications snapped between the Himalayan region and other parts of India, shaky even in normal times. Telephone contact halted seven hours after the quake early Sunday, and officials had to rely on infrequent radio connections, one Dehra Dun official said.
At least three bridges and one dam were damaged, police said in Dehra Dun.
Police said there were fears of flooding farther south, because landslides had dammed the Bhagirathi River, which flows down the Himalayas.
The river's name changes to the Ganges at the pilgrimage town of Haridwar and traverses the breadth of India's fertile Gangetic plains to the Bay of Bengal on the eastern coast.
The tremors were felt in New Delhi and as far away as Jammu, 355 miles northwest of Almora.
In Nepal, chief government seismologist M. R. Pandey said that about 16 aftershocks were felt in the western region of the neighboring country, but there were no immediate casualty reports. He said none of the aftershocks measured more than 3.5.
The last major earthquake in the region occurred Aug. 21, 1988, along the India-Nepal border. More than 1,000 people were killed.