-- Residents in the Gujarat State of western India spent the night outside Friday, too fearful to go back into their damaged homes after India's most powerful earthquake in half a century.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake killed as many as 2,000, injured at least 2,000, and left 4,000 missing.

Most of the missing are thought to be buried under rubble, and rescue workers dug frantically with bulldozers, shovels, sticks -- even bare hands -- trying to find them.

The earthquake is a calamity of national magnitude, said Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who planned a trip to the area to survey damage. We have decided to meet the emergency on a war footing, he said. This is the time for people to rally around.


The temblor shook high-rise towers 600 miles away in the capital, New Delhi. The quake could be felt as far as 1,200 miles away in Calcutta and coastal Bangladesh.

The quake struck at 8:46 a.m. as many cities were beginning celebrations for India's 51st Republic Day, which commemorates the adoption of the country's constitution.

'There is great panic'

In Ahmadabad, Gujarat's commercial capital and a sprawling city of 4.5 million, helmeted rescue workers used iron rods to pry slabs of concrete and metal, searching for survivors. Women wept and rocked back and forth, watching as the few available bulldozers and cranes pushed through the piles of stone that once had housed families and shops.

Beds, children's toys and clothes lay abandoned in the debris, lamp posts and electric pylons were twisted and many buildings were left leaning precariously.

After night fell, with temperatures at 55 degrees, survivors spread blankets and huddled around campfires.

There is a great panic among the people and they have spilled out onto the streets, said Haren Panya, home minister of Gujarat. Because of the aftershocks, We have asked people to move out of old buildings.

Corpses were piled up on the verandah of the N.S. Hospital, while patients overflowing into the hallways wailed and screamed with broken limbs and bleeding wounds. Press Trust of India reported 70 people died awaiting treatment.

Bruised and bleeding bodies were laid in rows, covered with blankets as relatives sat by mourning.

Dispute over magnitude

Officials at a command center said more than 300 were dead in Ahmadabad, more than 650 in Anjar, more than 500 in Bhuj, as well as 87 dead in Jamnagar, 147 dead in Rajkot, 55 dead in Suranagar, and 53 dead in Surat.

The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, put the magnitude of the quake at 7.9, though Cabinet minister Pramod Mahajan insisted the quake measured 6.9.

There were least 83 aftershocks, several measuring up to 5.6 magnitude, in the 10 hours after the quake, said the seismological department at the Bhaba Atomic Center. An apparent aftershock also hit Bangladesh, where hundreds of panicked residents flooded into the streets of Satkhira, on the border with India.

Officials said aftershocks could be expected to days or even weeks.

Injured await treatment

The epicenter of the quake was near the resort town of Bhuj, about 180 miles (290 km) southeast of Hyderabad, Pakistan.

Under strong searchlights, firefighters, Indian army personnel and volunteers search for survivors in Ahmedabad

Bhuj's main hospital, run by the air force, was crammed with seriously injured people. Nearly 1,000 injured residents were camping outside the hospital waiting their turn, the Star television network reported.

Rescue workers reported that more than 50 high-rise buildings had collapsed and many others had sustained heavy damage. Efforts were under way to rescue about 100 people believed trapped in one school.

There were also reports of downed power lines, cracked gas mains, train derailments and damaged roadways.

In Hyderabad, Pakistan, four people were killed when a building collapsed there, police said.

Offers of help, aid

The Indian government said it was flying 10,000 tents, 10,000 tons of grain, 20 doctors and surgeons, communications and seismology experts to Gujarat.

Soldiers help clear the rubble as they search for survivors and victims

Vajpayee made no appeal for international aid, saying those needs were being assessed.

U.S. President George Bush, the United Nations, and Pakistan's army ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf sent condolences. Bush said the United States is willing to provide assistance if needed, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance announced that it will send a five-member earthquake assessment team to India on Sunday.