Kremlin leader Mik-hail Gorbachev, touring the earthquake-stricken city of Leninakan, was met by crowds of weeping wom-en and men, shouting for more equipment to save survivors, Soviet television reported.
Gorbachev, pressed by hundreds of people, told them the disaster in Soviet Armenia was "immeasurable," adding he could not describe the suffering he had seen."It is impossible to express in words what you see here in Leninakan, which has suffered greatly," he said, according to the television report.
As the Kremlin chief visited Leninakan, which was 80 percent destroyed in Wednesday's quake, officials in Moscow said the first incomplete estimate of casualties showed between 40,000 and 45,000 people died.
The disaster prompted Gorbachev to break off a trip to the United States and return home. He arrived in Armenia on Saturday and went to the area hit by the quake, which devastated two cities and leveled a town.
The evening news showed still photos of Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, on the streets of Leninakan, surrounded by people. At one point, Raisa was shown with her arm around a weeping woman while Gorbachev looked on sympathetically.
"Soviet women were meeting him weeping, telling him about the deaths of relatives," the television news reader said, reading a Tass report.
"The shouts of men could be heard - "we need equipment first of all. Powerful cranes are lacking," the report said.
Gorbachev tried to soothe people, assuring them that everything possible was being done, Tass said.
"All our country shares your sorrow," he said. "Now the most important thing is to save everyone who still can be saved."
Tass also said 500 more construction cranes were to be delivered on Sunday to the area hit by the quake.
Suggestions have grown that insufficient rescue equipment and poor organization may have cost the lives of many people trapped under the mountains of rubble.
The entire country observed a day of mourning on Saturday for victims of the quake, described by officials as the most destructive in the area in more than 1,000 years.
To a background of somber music, television showed flags flying at half-mast over the Kremlin and people donating money and clothing to the relief effort.
The government newspaper Izvestia said more than 150 aftershocks were registered in Leninakan. It did not say how strong they were but said none had caused any damage.
Television news said Gorbachev had thanked a member of a French rescue team in Leninakan and expressed gratitude for aid sent from other countries, saying it "is impossible to express the nobility of human solidarity more vividly."
He was accompanied to the devastated city by Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov and several other members of a Politburo commission organizing relief efforts, Tass said. It described some of what they saw.
"Ruins of residential houses, public and office buildings, heaps of twisted ferroconcrete structures, and deep gaps in the scorched land lie on both sides of the road after it enters Leninakan," Tass said.
After viewing the damage, Gorbachev went to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where he met Communist Party officials to discuss rescue efforts, Tass said.
Among those present were Abdul Vezirov, Communist Party chief of Azerbaijan, the neighboring Soviet republic, which has been at odds with Armenia for months over control of the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Soviet media have stressed that Azerbaijan has been sending aid to Armenia. But reports from the region say ethnic tensions continue in some parts of the two southern republics, prompting a continued exodus of refugees.
The quake death toll estimate was given at a news conference in Moscow on Saturday by Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Nikiforov.
"Initial figures, very approximate figures, show between 40,000 to 45,000 dead," Nikiforov said. "There are about 500,000 homeless, 12,000 have asked for medical assistance and 6,000 are in hospital."
His casualty figures were substantially lower than other unofficial and semi-official estimates from the region.
A spokesman at the official Armenian news agency, Armenpress, told Reuters on Friday that up to 100,000 people could have been killed.
Tass said thousands of homeless people were living in tent cities, fed by army kitchens and kept warm by bonfires in Leninakan and other Armenian cities hit by the quake, including Spitak, Kirovakan, and Stepanavan.
Soviet television showed scraps of paper residents of Leninakan had pinned to a city gate reporting their whereabouts and asking about the fate of relatives and friends.
It also showed rescue efforts with single cranes attacking huge rubble mountains while people scrambled over the debris in an unorganized fashion, some of them smoking cigarettes.
Izvestia said it was unfortunate the French team of professional rescue workers had not arrived earlier in Leninakan. "If only we ourselves had specially equipped and trained rescue teams," it said.
"We must say that real organization at a good professional level is lacking," it said of the Soviet rescue efforts.
"Armenia produced dozens of thousands of volunteers to rescue people, but because of somebody's bad organization, there are still unloaded planes at the airport with some of the most necessary equipment."
On Friday, 180 planes landed at Leninakan airport instead of the usual four or five, Tass said. The airport is three miles from the city of 290,000 and was only partly damaged by the quake.