November 27, 2005

Snow, rain bring gloom to Pakistan quake zone

By Abdul Wahid Kiani

PIEER CHANASI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's earthquake
zone got it's first harsh winter weather on Sunday, with rain
and snow bringing relief operations to a halt, and gloom to

Up to 8 inches of snow fell in some high-altitude areas and
up to 1.2 inches (32 mm) of rain drenched some lower areas, the
Meteorological Department said.

"Flights are off for today," said a spokesman for the U.N.
World Food Programme in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani

An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official
said their air and road operations had also been called off.

The October 8 earthquake killed more than 73,000 people,
most of them in the Pakistani Himalayas.

A race against time is on to ensure hundreds of thousands
of homeless survivors are given adequate shelter and enough
food to see them through a bitter winter.

If not, disease could sweep through cold, poorly nourished
survivors, causing a second wave of death, aid officials say.

Snow was falling in the village of Pieer Chanasi on Sunday
afternoon and residents were grim.

"We're in trouble. Our children and animals are also in
trouble," said Tanvir Naqvi. "The temperature is dropping and a
tent is not enough."

Fresh landslides, apparently triggered by the rain,
disrupted traffic on the road up to the village, which was
under about 2 inches of snow.

The authorities hope people in high-altitude settlements
will come down to tent camps on valley floors for the winter,
but most people have chosen to stick it out at their ruined

Aid officials are making plans in case bad weather sends a
flood of people down into unsanitary and over-crowded tent
camps in Muzaffarabad and other towns.

The ICRC official said good weather up to now meant aid
deliveries were slightly ahead of schedule, but prolonged bad
weather would be a worry.

"We have been very lucky -- or the survivors have -- that
we've been able to fly for a month without interruption," said
Pauli Immonen, in charge of ICRC air operations.

A weather official said 8 inches of snow had fallen in the
Naran area and 7 in the Kaghan Valley, both in North West
Frontier Province. An inch fell in the hill resort of Murree to
the north of Islamabad.

The temperature in Muzaffarabad dropped to a low of four
degrees Celsius (39 Fahrenheit) on Saturday night.