Asia quake: Desperate search for survivors

Rescuers struggled to reach remote, mountainous areas, and stricken residents of a devastated city scavenged for food and gasoline on Sunday, a day after a deadly, massive earthquake struck Pakistan and India, wiping out entire villages, severing transportation links and knocking out power and water supply.

In dozens of villages, many cut off from rescuers by quake-induced landslides, relatives desperate to find their loved ones dug through rubble with their bare hands, and Pakistani officials said the death toll ranges between 20 000 and 30 000. In addition, India reported more than 465 dead, and Afghanistan said four were killed.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf said the magnitude-7,6 earthquake is the country’s worst on record and appealed for urgent help, particularly cargo helicopters to reach remote areas.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Sunday the United States will be sending helicopters from military operations in neighbouring Afghanistan to aid in the rescue effort.

Rival India also offered assistance.

Aziz said the Pakistani death toll is 19 396 dead, and that it is expected to rise. The Interior Minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, said most of the deaths were in Pakistani Kashmir, and that 42 397 were injured.
The worst-hit city is Pakistani Kashmir’s capital, Muzaffarabad, where 11 000 died, Sherpao said. One official put the Kashmir death toll much higher.

“I have been informed by my department that more than 30 000 people have died in Kashmir,” said Tariq Mahmmod, communications minister for the Himalayan region.

Troops “have not started relief work in remote villages where people are still buried in the rubble, and in some areas nobody is present to organise funerals for the dead”, he said.

Quake felt in several countries

The quake was felt across a wide swathe of South Asia, from central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh. It swayed buildings in the capitals of three nations, with the damage spanning at least 400km, from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in northern Indian territory. In Islamabad, a 10-storey building collapsed.

Residents in Muzaffarabad said they are facing food and gasoline shortages. The city of 600 000 has no water or electricity supply, and people collect water from a mountain stream.

“People are relying on local fruit, and they have little food to eat. I went out to get bread, and could only get a couple of apples,” said Gul Khan, an Afghan carpet seller. He said he wanted to leave for another town, but couldn’t go because of damaged roads.

Hundreds of people waited at bus stations, hoping to leave Muzaffarabad. The body of a man lay on a roadside, and nearby a family pushed a body in a cart.

The city’s military hospital collapsed, and residents said there were bodies inside. Doctors set up a makeshift clinic in a park.

“Eighty percent of the region is destroyed,” said Ozgur Bozoglu, a member of a Turkish search-and-rescue team operating in Muzaffarabad on Sunday morning.

“The situation is very bad. Surgeries are being conducted on soccer fields. There are not enough doctors,” Bozoglu said told Turkey’s NTV television.

Collapsed schools

Officials said Balakot, in the North West Frontier province about 100km north of Islamabad, was one of the hardest-hit areas. Near the ruins of one collapsed school, at least a dozen bodies were strewn on the streets of the devastated village of about 30 000. At least 250 pupils were feared trapped inside the rubble of a four-storey school.

Dozens of villagers, some with sledgehammers but many without tools, pulled at the debris and carried away bodies. Faizan Farooq, a 19-year-old business-administration student, said he had heard children under the rubble crying for help immediately after Saturday’s disaster.

“Now there’s no sign of life,” he said on Sunday. “We can’t do this without the army’s help. Nobody has come here to help us.”

Helicopters and C-130 transport planes took troops and supplies to some damaged areas on Sunday.

There was no sign of government help in Balakot. The quake levelled the town’s main bazaar, crushing shoppers and strewing gas cylinders, bricks, tomatoes and onions on the streets.

Injured people covered by shawls lay in the street, waiting for medical care. Residents carried bodies on wooden planks. The corpses of four children, aged between four and six, lay under a sheet of corrugated iron.

Global response

Nations offering assistance included the US, the United Nations, Britain, Russia, China, Turkey, Japan and Germany.

An eight-member UN team of top disaster-coordination officials arrived in Islamabad on Sunday to plan the global body’s response.

On the Indian side of the border, at least 54 soldiers were killed when their bunkers collapsed, said Colonel H Juneja, an Indian army spokesperson.

The only serious damage reported in Islamabad was the collapse of a 10-storey apartment building, where at least 24 people were killed and dozens were injured. On Sunday, Pakistani rescue teams pulled two survivors from the rubble. The boy and woman, who were listed in stable condition, told doctors others were trapped alive and calling for help beneath the debris.

Late on Sunday, rescuers heard the voice of a man trapped in the rubble, and were trying to reach him.

Death toll rises in India

The death toll in India rose on Sunday to 465 after rescue workers and soldiers pulled out 90 more bodies in the frontier Tangdar region, north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state. Most of the deaths were in the border towns of Uri, Tangdar and Punch and Srinagar, where the quake collapsed houses and buildings.

Hundreds of angry villagers blocked roads in the region on Sunday, protesting the slow pace of rescue efforts. On the main road between Baramulla and the border town of Uri, locals demanded that journalists and soldiers with aid go to their mountainside villages.

“Everything is destroyed—the ground shook and took everything down,” said Syad Hassan, pointing toward the peaks surrounding the valley road.

Most people in Jammu-Kashmir spent the night in the open, lighting fires with wood pulled out from fallen houses to keep warm in the near-freezing temperatures.

The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred about 100km north-east of Islamabad, 10km below the forested mountains of Pakistani Kashmir. That was followed by at least 22 aftershocks within 24 hours, including a 6,2-magnitude temblor.

India, a long-time rival of Pakistan, offered help and condolences in a gesture of cooperation. The nuclear rivals have been pursuing peace after fighting three wars since independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.—Sapa-AP

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