October 16, 2005

Steady rain heaps misery on Kashmir quake survivors

By Robert Birsel

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Steady rain heaped more
misery on the survivors of the Kashmir earthquake on Sunday as
the more than one million made homeless spent another night
exposed to the elements with only makeshift tents as shelter.

Military officials said the relief flights had been halted
for most of the morning because of thunderstorms in Islamabad,
where supplies were being loaded, despite improving weather in
the earthquake zone.

Rain fell steadily through the night and Qamar-uz-Zaman
Chaudhry, director-general of meteorological services in the
capital Islamabad, forecast showers would continue
intermittently until Monday in the quake zone at the foot of
the Himalayas, followed by a cold snap.

In addition to the effect on the condition of survivors,
the rain was disruptive to rescue and relief operations which
rely heavily on helicopters because so many of mountain roads
have been made impassable.

Six soldiers were killed when a Pakistan army helicopter
crashed on a relief mission on Saturday, a military spokesman
said. The debris of the helicopter was found at 1:30 a.m. on
Sunday (2030 GMT on Saturday).

"The Mi-17 helicopter crashed during daytime sometime on
Saturday when it went to provide relief items in some
inaccessible areas in the Bagh valley," Major General Shaukat
Sultan told Reuters on Sunday.

The helicopters, including some provided by U.S. forces
fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan, are ferrying emergency
food supplies and shelter into the worst-hit areas of Pakistani
Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province.

Robert Holden, operations manager of the U.N. relief
effort, said the rains made a bad situation much worse.

"Many people are out without shelter. It was miserable to
start with but with this things are only going to get worse,"
he said.

"We've also got the danger of further collapse of
buildings; a very, very difficult situation made even worse by
the rain."

Government officials on Saturday raised the official death
toll on the Pakistani side of the earthquake by 13,000 to
38,000 dead. Another 1,300 people died on the Indian side of
the border.

The new death toll put the disaster on a par with a quake
that almost destroyed the Pakistani city of Quetta in 1935.


The government estimates damage from the quake at about $5
billion. So far more than half a billion dollars has been
pledged from around the world, but development officials said
they have started planning for a much larger long-term appeal.

The toll from the quake is expected to rise, even without
the effects of the weather and disease that could arise from
ruined sewage systems and drinking water sources.

President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday damage had not
been assessed in several areas because of the blocked roads,
especially in the Jhelum and Neelum valleys.

"We got the satellite images but because they are vertical
images, we don't know whether a house is destroyed or not ...
therefore we could not get much judgment on where is the damage
and how much is the damage," he told reporters.

In Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, little
shops had begun to reopen and aid agencies were setting up
long-term bases for the huge emergency and rebuilding task.

Izfy Akbar re-opened his provision shop selling dried

"I will stay until I see what happens. If I am told to
leave I will leave. If not, I will stay," Akbar said.

The two most important priorities were tents for shelter
and helicopters for relief, government and aid officials said.

"The number one priority is shelter," Prime Minister
Shaukat Aziz said on Saturday. "We need tents, tents, tents."

Most buildings in Muzaffarabad are damaged or destroyed and
tent cities have sprung up made up of plastic awnings, old
signboards and a few real tents.

The government plans to set up tent villages in and around
the afflicted areas to house up to 500,000 people, according to
Aziz. Such tent villages would be the best places to go because
they will have food distribution, schools and other services,
the Aziz told a news conference.

Some international rescue teams have begun to leave because
the chances of finding anyone else alive appear to be fading.

Musharraf said rescue work would continue but experts said
it would be a miracle if anyone had survived for eight days.

In Islamabad, hospitals were overwhelmed.

At the main children's hospital, surgeons and doctors were
exhausted after working around the clock treating more than 700
patients in a facility designed for 220.

"It's really a nightmare," said Professor Zaheer Abbassi,
head of paediatric surgery, adding there was an urgent need for
more doctors and surgeons and appealing for foreign volunteers.

He said 62,000 people were reported hurt in the disaster,
many of them children, so the crisis was far from over.

"We are expecting more children over the next one or two
weeks. I think this seems to be only the tip of the iceberg."

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Faisal Aziz and
Zeeshan Haider in ISLAMABAD)

(For more news about emergency relief visit Reuters
AlertNet http://www.alertnet.org email: [email protected];
+44 207 542 2432)