January 2, 2006

Misery in Pakistan quake zone as snow grounds relief

By Robert Birsel

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Rain and snow fell
across Pakistan's earthquake zone for a second straight day on
Monday, grounding relief flights and adding to the misery of
millions of survivors camped out in tents and crude shelters.

Heavy snow fell across high ground and rain drenched
valleys overnight, triggering some tent collapses and
landslides but the military, coordinating a huge relief effort
with aid groups, said there had been no reports of major

"There has been no unpleasant news regarding any
accidents," said Major Farooq Nasir, a military spokesman in
Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

More than 73,000 people were killed by the October 8
earthquake in northern Pakistan and about 1,300 died in Indian

The Pakistan meteorological department said that some parts
of the quake zone, which extends from Kashmir into North West
Frontier Province, had seen more than two feet of snow.

Met office official Mohammad Aslam said rain and widespread
heavy snow was expected until Saturday.

More than two million people have been camping out since
the quake in tents or flimsy shelters built in the rubble of
their homes.

They said heavy snow had brought down tents in the remote,
high-altitude Allai Valley of North West Frontier Province as
well as in some parts of Pakistani Kashmir.

Nasir said heavy rain across the fractured mountains had
produced some landslides and rockfalls but some relief
operations by road were continuing.


The bad weather had been expected since early December but
held off, allowing more supplies of shelter, bedding, food and
medical supplies to be flown and trucked up into the mountains.

Monday was only the third day that vital air operations had
to be suspended since the quake and relief officials said there
was no cause for immediate alarm.

"In terms of overall relief, it's not the end of the
world," said the U.N. logistics chief in Muzaffarabad, Natasha

But the snow and rain has brought misery across the region.

"Everything is wet," said a tearful woman named Shakina,
huddled with one of her three children next to a fire outside
her sodden tent in a camp in Muzaffarabad. "This is very
difficult for me and my children. We can't survive in this

The village of Kachili, about 30 miles southeast of

Muzaffarabad, received about a foot of snow.

Residents said most tents had come down as their pegs had
come loose in the wet ground. They said it had started snowing
again in the morning and power was cut off and roads blocked.

A resident said people had had to crowd into crude shelters
made from the rubble of houses and iron sheets provided by the
government. "Tents are of no use now," he said.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said the snow increased the
dangers of avalanches, one of which killed 24 people last week
after being triggered by one of the hundreds of aftershocks
that have rocked northern Pakistan since October.

The foreign agency, one of many assisting relief work, said
this had underscored the dangers in some of the most difficult
mountain terrain on earth.

"I fear this tragic avalanche is the first of many to come
this winter...and the danger will increase with more
snowfalls," said its emergency program officer Ann Kristin

(Additional reporting by Abdul Wahid Kiani, Raja Asghar and
David Brunnstrom)