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Rescuers claw through ruins of Pakistani flats

October 8, 2005

By Robert Birsel

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Rescue workers scrambled through the
ruins of an apartment complex in the Pakistani capital on
Saturday after a major earthquake brought two blocks of flats
crashing down on dozens of residents.

Up to 100 people were believed trapped beneath the rubble
of the Margala Towers blocks where expatriate workers and
middle-class Pakistanis lived. An official overseeing the
rescue later said 82 survivors had been recovered, as well as
11 bodies.

“I’ve seen mutilated bodies, I’ve seen people alive but
crushed,” said a Pakistani army officer, taking a break from
the rescue, who gave his name as Captain Asam.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.6, struck at about
8.50 a.m. (0350 GMT), shaking homes in the capital and across
northern Pakistan, as well as parts of neighboring Afghanistan
and India.

The quake was centered in forested mountains of Pakistani
Kashmir, near the Indian border, about 95 km (60 miles)
northeast of Islamabad.

More than 1,000 people were confirmed as dead across the
region and the toll was expected to rise.

Two Japanese, a man and a child, were killed in the
collapsed apartments and one Japanese woman was injured, a
hospital official said. One Egyptian was killed and one
wounded. Two Bosnians and two Sudanese were also injured, the
official said.

The final toll from the collapsed flats would only be known
when all the debris was cleared, and that might take 24 hours,
said the rescue official, who declined to speculate on how many
people might still be in the ruins.

A driving rain fell after dark as heavy diggers tugged huge
chunks of rubble off a mound of collapsed, compacted apartment
floors. Flood lights illuminated the site as lightning flashed
across the sky and the debris was trucked away.

Earlier, hundreds of people gathered to watch. A sobbing
woman clutching a child looked on in shock as police tried to
clear the way for heavy moving equipment.

Among those watching the rescue were anxious friends and
relatives of the tenants.

“My friends are still in there,” said one woman, Ayan
Durani. “There are children in there. If there are air pockets
under the rubble they might still be alive. We can’t declare
them dead.”

Officials told Reuters the two blocks that collapsed had
contained 75 apartments.

“COMPLETE CHAOS”

Mohsin Jilani, a worker at a foreign bank in Islamabad,
said he had rushed to the apartment complex to try to help
friends minutes after the first tremor.

A strong after-shock brought the blocks down, he said.

“People were running down and after five seconds it just
collapsed,” Jilani said.

Some of those watching the rescue were getting frustrated
with what appeared to be a very slow operation.

“It was complete chaos,” Jawad Sadiq, who also had a friend
under the rubble, said of the situation soon after the
apartments collapsed when he was trying to find his friend.

“We don’t have proper equipment,” said Jilani, who saw six
debris-crushed bodies while searching for his friend. He later
learned that his friend was lying dead, pinned in by rubble.

“We don’t have the capacity. This is the first time,” said
Captain Asam when he was challenged by some fretting friends of
those missing, before being rushed away by a colleague, back
toward the pile of rubble.

Earlier, President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister
Shaukat Aziz visited the site.

“It is a test for all of us. It is a test for me, of the
prime minister, of the government and of the entire nation and
I am sure we will succeed,” Musharraf said.




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