November 30, 2005

Quake survivors plead for help in Indian Kashmir

By Sheikh Mushtaq

DRANGYARI, India (Reuters) - Sarwar Jan and her eight
shivering children collect a handful of twigs to light a fire
in their little tin shed as it snows heavily outside.

"I fear they will catch pneumonia going out in such
weather," said 45-year-old Jan, tears streaming down her face
as her children huddled around a fire, many of them coughing in
their dirty pherens (long coat) or ponchos.

"They will die ... God save us."

Jan and her children survived the devastating October 8
earthquake in South Asia that killed more than 73,000 people
and left millions homeless, and are now fighting a harsh
Himalayan winter.

Nearly 600 people in Indian Kashmir, whose world was
destroyed by the quake, live in temporary tin sheds and tents
under a thick layer of snow and freezing temperatures in
Drangyari, a small valley ringed by lofty snow-covered
mountains and pine forests.

"Life has become extremely difficult particularly for
children. Allah is angry with us. Allah only can save us," said
Mohammad Showkat Khan, the chief priest of the village, looking
toward the sky as the snow falls.

Nearby men, women and children shovelled snow from the roof
of their tin sheds and tents, many of them with bare hands.

"I can't sleep for the whole night because of the coughing
and the pain in my foot," said 10-year-old Parveena, pointing
toward the frostbite on her right foot.

Khan said many children had fallen ill in the village and
at least three had been sent to an army hospital.

"We provide them medical facilities when they come to us
but our doctors have also visited the village twice in recent
days," said Lieutenant-Colonel S. Solanki, an army officer, in
a nearby army camp.

Winters are always harsh in this part of the Himalayan
region. Snowstorms and avalanches killed 300 in Indian Kashmir
last season and meteorologists predict another tough winter
this year.

Many areas are cut off from the rest of the world,
sometimes for months.

Relief officials say they have constructed nearly 2,000
pre-fabricated shelters and over 12,000 tin sheds for the quake

"Weather is a problem but I am sure it will not hamper our
relief operations," B.B. Vyas, chief of relief operations,

The quake, the strongest to hit South Asia in a century,
killed more than 1,300 people and left thousands homeless in
Indian Kashmir.

"In the next few days we will be buried under snow. Nobody
is coming to help us. Even God is angry with us. Please help
us," pleaded 82-year-old Khatoon.