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Relief efforts pour in to help Pakistani quake aftermath

Oct. 11, 2005

by SADAQAT JAN, The Associated Press

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan -- Shopkeepers clashed with looters Monday, and hungry families huddled under tents while waiting for relief supplies after Pakistan's worst earthquake razed entire villages and buried roads in rubble. Death toll estimates ranged from 20,000 to 30,000.

Associated Press
A doctor treats an earthquake victim at the AYUB medical complex in the northern Pakistani town of Abbottabad Monday.
British rescuers unearthed a man trapped in rubble for 54 hours, residents using their bare hands and crowbars freed two girls buried in a school for more than two days, and a woman and child were pulled to safety from a wrecked apartment building after 62 hours.

Setting aside decades-old rivalries, Pakistan said it would accept earthquake aid from India, and a top rebel commander reportedly ordered the suspension of violence in earthquake-hit areas of Indian Kashmir. Authorities in New Delhi promised delivery "on a very urgent basis."

Eight U.S. military helicopters from Afghanistan arrived in Islamabad with provisions, and Washington pledged up to $50 million in relief and reconstruction aid, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said.

"The magnitude of this disaster is utterly overwhelming," Crocker said. "We have under way the beginning of a very major relief effort."

The United Nations said more than 2.5 million people were left homeless by Saturday's magnitude-7.6 quake, and doctors warned of an outbreak of disease unless more relief arrives soon. The hardest-hit area was the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India.

With landslides blocking roads to many of the worst-hit areas, Pakistan's army airlifted food, water and medicine into the disaster zone. International relief efforts cranked into action, and an American plane full of relief supplies landed at an air base near Pakistan's capital Monday.

Most of the dead were in Pakistan's mountainous north. India reported at least 865 deaths, but Home Secretary V.K. Duggal said it was not expected to rise much higher. Afghanistan reported four deaths.

With the situation dire, Pakistan set aside politics and said it would accept relief aid for earthquake victims from India. The nuclear-armed neighbors have been bitter rivals since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, fighting three wars, but they have taken steps to improve relations since last year.

India will send tents, food and medicine and other aid, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said in the capital, New Delhi.

The chief commander of the largest Kashmiri rebel group, the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, reportedly ordered a suspension of violence in devastated areas of India-controlled Kashmir.

"We have directed our cadres to halt their operations in the affected areas," the private Kashmir News Service quoted Syed Salah-ud-Din as saying. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen is one of more than a dozen rebel groups fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.

On Sunday night, suspected Islamic militants killed 10 people, including four Hindus in quake-hit villages whose throats were slit, said senior police superintendent J.P. Singh.

In Balakot, a badly hit town in North West Frontier Province, townspeople broke through concrete to rescue two girls from a shattered school. Several men brushed dust from the clothes of one girl and gave her water.

In the shattered streets of Muzaffarabad, where at least 11,000 people died, an Associated Press reporter saw shopkeepers scuffle with looters. They beat each other with sticks and threw stones, and some people suffered head wounds. No police were nearby.

Residents of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, said looters also targeted deserted homes. Survivors lacked food and water, and there was little sign of any official coordination of relief in the devastated city of 600,000.

"Bodies are scattered in the city," said Masood-ur Rehman, the assistant commissioner of the city. "We are helpless."

An eight-member team of British rescuers using a dog, drills, chain saws and crowbars pulled a 20-year-old tailor to safety, 54 hours after a two-story building collapsed over him and dozens of others.

The man, Tariq, was wide-eyed and covered in dust when he emerged, and he begged for water.

"I haven't eaten in three days, but I'm not hungry," said Tariq, who had an injured leg and was carried away on a door. He had been trapped beneath concrete and wooden beams, and a dead body lay on either side of him.

In the capital of Islamabad, a woman and a child who were trapped for 62 hours in the rubble of an apartment building were pulled to safety Monday night, a witness said.

The survivors were brought out to the cheers of rescuers who have been working around the clock since the earthquake struck, said Asim Shafik, a witness who lives in the area and has assisted in rescue efforts.

He said teams were working to free another child, and that voices had been heard in the rubble of the upscale Margalla Towers complex, raising hopes that more people could be rescued. At least two dozen people died in the building.

About 2,000 people huddled around campfires through the cold night on a soccer field on the city's university campus, where most buildings collapsed and hundreds were feared buried in classrooms and dormitories. Soldiers burrowed into the concrete with shovels and iron bars.

"I don't think anybody is alive in this pile of rubble," rescue worker Uzair Khan said. "But we have not lost hope."

On the field, Mohammed Ullah Khan, 50, said a few biscuits handed out by relief workers was all he had eaten for three days. His wife, who suffered a fractured leg, was wrapped in a yellow quilt beside him.

Their three-story home collapsed in the quake. His family of 10 survived because they were on the top floor, which crashed to the ground.

"My children are now on a hillside, under the open sky, with nothing to eat," he said.

A doctor, Iqbal Khan, said there was a serious risk of diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia if drinking water and other relief supplies do not arrive quickly.

"These people feel as if there is no one to take care of them," he said.

The city had no electricity, and people collected water from a mountain stream. Shops and the city's military hospital had collapsed.

On a street near the city center, people dug holes into three or four collapsed shops and dragged out rice and other groceries.

"We haven't eaten anything for two or three days," said a 20-year-old man who declined to identify himself as he ferreted away stolen goods. "We are desperate and hungry."

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Sunday the earthquake was the country's worst on record and appealed for urgent help, particularly cargo helicopters to reach remote areas.

"We are doing whatever is humanly possible," he said. "There should not be any blame game. We are trying to reach all those areas where people need our help."

President Bush on Sunday promised cash and said he had told Musharraf "we want to help in any way we can."

Eight U.S. military helicopters touched down in a whoosh of dust from coalition bases from neighboring Afghanistan, diverted from action in the war on terrorism.

"There is a great need here with the damage and the destruction that has been done by this earthquake, and it's very important for the U.S. government and the U.S. military in Afghanistan to provide assistance to them," military spokesman Col. James Yonts said.

Planes arrived from Turkey, Britain, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Russia, China and Germany also offered assistance.

Pakistan's information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, said the death toll was more than 20,000. The top elected official in the region, Sardar Sikandar Hayat, said more than 25,000 people had died and there were "countless" injured.

The province's communications minister, Tariq Mahmood, put the toll at more than 30,000.

The quake was felt across a wide swath of South Asia, with damage spanning at least 250 miles, from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in northern Indian territory.