Residents of the remote Far East Russian island of Sakhalin desperately sought to rescue their relatives and friends as Russian troops scrambled to dig out thousands of victims of one of the most catastrophic earthquakes in Russian history. The devastating temblor, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, hit at 1am on Sunday, leveling the town of Neftegorsk and burying most of the 3,500 residents in the wreckage of brick and concrete buildings. In Neftegorsk, cries of pain were heard amid the rubble, the whole area clouded by thick smoke from fires sparked by the quake. At least 2,000 people were feared dead. "The whole town collapsed," Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told Russian television. Japan and South Korea immediately offered to send emergency teams and financial aid to help in the effort. By late Monday, rescuers had located 938 survivors, evacuating the most seriously injured to hospitals hundreds of miles away in Khabarovsk and Okha on the mainland. At the same time, an ice-breaker was battering a path through the three-foot-thick mantle of ice surrounding the island so that a Russian hospital ship could reach the area. Rescuers fear they are running out of time: complicating the sheer magnitude of the damage and severity of the injuries of those still alive under the rubble are the bitter sub-freezing temperatures gripping the area. "We are racing against time, against hours and minutes," said Sergei Khetagurov, Russia's deputy minister for emergency situations. "Rescue work can help save victims only in the first two or three days. After that, there is no one left to save."