October 12, 2005

Himalayan Winter the New Threat to Quake Survivors

SULTANDAKI, India -- Khatija Bibi sits beside her injured son wrapped in a woolen blanket on a stretcher in front of what was once her house in Indian Kashmir.

It's cold and the rain is pouring as the 45-year-old housewife shivers.

"I think nobody is going to come and help us because the weather has turned ugly. It is the wrath of God."

Six Indian soldiers on a rescue mission in Kashmir died on Tuesday in a landslide triggered by rains and authorities have become increasingly concerned about saving quake survivors from the rapidly turning weather.

Weather officials forecast rain and snow for parts of Kashmir worst hit by the quake, where survivors, many injured and dazed, are living outside with little or no shelter, food or water.

"We are extremely worried about the winter setting in and we will provide everyone with shelter, woolen clothes and blankets before that," home department chief V. K. Duggal told reporters.

But authorities so far have only 5,000 of the estimated 35,000 tents they need.

Tens of thousands of people in South Asia were killed by the region's worst earthquake in a century on Saturday and survivors are now fighting rains, snow and temperatures already falling close to zero Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) at night

According to Indian officials, more than 70,000 homes were destroyed in the quake in the worst hit area around Uri, on the ceasefire line between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir.

"We have lost everything, my father, uncle and nephew ... our homes. Where should I take these women and children in these conditions?" asks Abdul Rehaman, walking along a muddy road to Uri along with his wife, sister and two children, all soaked from the rain.

Another group of villagers carried a body on top of a jeep amid the rain.

"We desperately want tents for shelter, warm clothes for our children -- otherwise they will die," says Farooq Ahmad, a resident of Uri, a once bustling town which has been all but wiped out.

"We want to buy tents but they are not available in the market, but our efforts will continue ... it will take next six to eight days for the required number of tents," national Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said.

The army says the bad weather is slowing, but not stopping, its rescue operation.

"Despite bad weather, all efforts are being made to send relief material to forward villages. The bad weather has only slowed the process," said army Colonel H. Joneja.

Soldiers are clearing roads and tracks into remote areas which were blocked by landslides from the earthquake.

The weekend tremor has killed at least 1,244 people in Indian Kashmir and may have killed as many as 40,000 in Pakistani Kashmir and Pakistan.