October 16, 2005

Rain heaps misery on Kashmir quake survivors

By Robert Birsel

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

The storms grounded most flights by relief helicopters, the
only way to get supplies to many of those stranded in the
mountains, where the quake buckled roads or buried them in

Only about half a dozen flights managed to leave on Sunday,
despite improving weather in the earthquake zone.

In a reminder of how dangerous mountain flights can be in
bad weather, an army helicopter crash killed all six on board.

"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 are ferrying food and shelter into the
worst-hit areas of Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West
Frontier Province.

Weather forecaster Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry said showers
would continue intermittently until Monday in the quake zone at
the foot of the Himalayas, followed by a cold snap.

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

The Pakistani government raised its confirmed death toll to
39,422, with at least 65,000 people injured, on a par with a
quake that almost destroyed the city of Quetta in 1935.

Another 1,300 people died on the Indian side of the border.

The government estimates damage from the quake at about $5
billion. So far more than $500 million has been pledged from
around the world, but development officials said they have
started planning for a much larger long-term appeal.

The quake toll is expected to rise, even without the
effects of the weather, which threatens hungry people with
death from exposure and disease 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.

A pilot of one of the helicopters dispatched from the fight
against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan said some
Kashmir villages looked normal from the air, but consisted only
of intact roofs lying on the ground.

"What we have heard from our pilots and the other pilots
around, roughly 20 percent of the affected area has yet to be
reached," Geoffrey Krassy, senior aviation adviser at the U.S.
embassy, told reporters.

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

The two most important priorities were tents and
helicopters, 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
afflicted areas to house up to 500,000 people with food,
schools and other services, Aziz told a news conference.

Some international rescue teams have begun to leave because
the chances of finding anyone else alive are remote.

A British rescue team gave up the search in Islamabad's
Margala Towers apartment block, the capital's only significant
damage, on Sunday. A Swedish woman and three children and a
Spanish man are among 21 still missing there.

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, appealing for foreign doctors to
volunteer, saying 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)