For many families, the bad news from Asia keeps coming

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The bad news kept coming. A few hours later, she had lost count of the number of loved ones in Azad Kashmir who had died.

Mrs Ahmed said: "We have stopped counting. We have been getting phone calls all day telling us an uncle has died, then a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law, a young nephew, my sister is injured and I've been told she's on a helicopter to Islamabad, I can't keep count. Every household has lost two or three people."

Mrs Ahmed, 47, who came to Leytonstone in east London 35 years ago from Azad Kashmir, felt an overwhelming helplessness as she received the deluge of phone calls. "People have been coming to our house all day offering condolences. We can do nothing but pray and ask everyone to pray for people's lives," she said.

She said family members who had survived were too terrified to go back into their homes and were sleeping in open fields. Many of the dead were being buried in mass graves in an effort to remove bodies from streets, she had heard.

Members of her family flew to Pakistan yesterday morning with blankets and food in an effort to find missing relatives. The Ahmeds were among a large number of Britain's Pakistani community who were coming to terms with the loss of loved ones, or the uncertainty of not knowing if they were alive.

Parveen Khan, a co-ordinator at the Kashmir International Relief Fund, went straight to the charity's office in east London when she heard the news.

"The stories I have heard from families are so painful to listen to. A couple from London lost more than 100 people they know. Others are upset because they haven't heard from relatives and the phones are down. Villages are just gone, wiped out. A lot of people here are in shock at what they're hearing," she said.

Mahmood Ahmed, 46, the founder of the Read Foundation, which runs 323 schools in Azad Kashmir, said not only had 20 of his relatives been killed, but teachers and students from his schools had perished too.

"I have spent the last 11 years building this foundation to help children in the region. I have seen my life's work destroyed overnight. I am not the only one. There are so many in the region that have spent the last 25 years developing it and now it all lies destroyed," he said.

Nageela Yusuf, 24, a student from west London, heard about the disaster when she woke to start her Ramadan fast on Saturday. Her Kashmiri family survived, but many of her friends were still in a painful state of limbo. "I have a friend whose family live in Muzaffarabad and Bagh. She had just passed her Bar exams this week. She was due to be celebrating, but now this. She is just waiting to hear they are all safe and well," she said.

The Pakistani High Commission set up emergency visa services at Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester airports to speed up the visa process for relatives travelling to affected areas.

Fasil Ali, 27, a civil engineer from London, was in a group of 10 family members flying out to Muzaffarabad, where around 40 of relatives live. " The ones in Islamabad we have heard from but we have not heard from those in Azad Kashmir. The whole area is ruined. The big problem is no communications, " he said.

Pakistan International Airlines said demand for seats was rising. There was a 40 per cent increase in the number of economy passengers and a 15 per cent rise in business class.

Those worried about relatives can call the Foreign Office information line on 020 7008 1500

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