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Child rescue a gleam of joy in Kashmir quake misery

October 16, 2005

By Robert Birsel

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Soldiers pulled a young
girl alive from the rubble of the Kashmir earthquake on Sunday,
giving shattered Pakistan a moment of joy on a day when storms
poured more misery on a million homeless survivors.

After a night exposed to solid rain under the flimsiest of
shelters, many survivors waited in vain for help as the weather
grounded all but a few of a growing fleet of relief helicopters
eight days after the quake pulverized a wide region.

A day after an army helicopter crash killed all six on
board on Saturday, a reminder of the dangers of mountain
flights in bad weather, only half a dozen or so helicopters
took off.

They are the only way to get supplies deep into mountains
of Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province
where the quake buckled roads or buried them in landslides.

“Many people are out without shelter. It was miserable to
start with but with this things are only going to get worse,”
said Robert Holden, operations manager of the U.N. relief
effort, with cold weather forecast to follow the rain.

“We’ve also got the danger of further collapse of
buildings,” he said as the 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.

But a story to lift the spirits came in the form of a
9-year-old boy at Snaghar, around 7 km (4 miles) from Balakot,
the worst-hit city in North West Frontier Province.

Military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said the
boy, who had looked after his two younger brothers, one a babe
in arms, since their parents were killed in the October 8
quake, told soldiers he had found his sister alive and begged
for help.

“Our soldiers pulled out the girl today,” Sultan said
without giving her age or details of how her brother found her.

TOLL STILL RISING

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 toll is expected to rise, even without the effects of
weather which threatens hungry people with death from exposure.
There are fears of disease from ruined sewage systems and
drinking water sources.

And there are still many places which have not been
reached, 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,”
President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday.

A pilot of one of the U.S. 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 are 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: alertnet@reuters.com;
+44 207 542 2432)




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