'A whole generation has been lost'

Pakistan said on Monday up to 40 000 people are feared dead in the weekend earthquake, as frustration over the slow rescue effort turned to anger and scattered looting.

The authorities struggled to bring aid to areas worst affected by the 7,6-magnitude quake where key roads were blocked by landslides, power and water supplies were down, and hospitals and schools destroyed.

A senior official said the quake had killed between 30 000 and 40 000 people in the mountains of north-east Pakistan, and injured another 60 000.

“It is a whole generation that has been lost in the worst-affected areas,” military spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan said. He said the hardest-hit area was around the main Pakistani Kashmir town of Muzaffarabad.

In many places, people dug with their bare hands in an often futile attempt to reach friends and relatives trapped in the rubble. Anger started to build and sporadic looting broke out as help failed to arrive quickly.

“We survived the earthquake, but now we realise we will die of hunger and cold,” said Mohammad Zaheer, a resident of the shattered town of Balakot.

In Muzaffarabad, survivors ransacked military trucks that had just arrived in the city and took food, tents, blankets and medicines, a photographer for news agency AFP at the scene said.

Others broke into a petrol station to get fuel to burn wood for cooking and warmth.

“Everything is gone, people are buried alive, nobody is helping us to find them,” local resident Akram Shah said.

Sultan said the authorities late on Monday had succeeded in reopening the mountain roads leading to Muzaffarabad and Balakot that had been blocked by landslides, speeding up the relief effort.

Aid pours in

International rescue teams with sniffer dogs and specialist equipment have begun arriving in Pakistan and setting up field hospitals to cope with the tens of thousands of injured.

Offers of aid have also begun pouring in from around the world.
The United States said it has provided $50-million, the World Bank offered $20-million and the Asian Development Bank pledged $10-million.

Survivors are facing an array of problems—freezing overnight temperatures, rain, landslides, scarce food, little shelter, no communications networks and almost non-existent health care.

The United Nations said more helicopters are needed urgently to bring aid to the hardest-hit villages, most of which are nestled on hard-to-reach forested slopes 3 300m high in the foothills of the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountain ranges.

“People don’t have tools or anything. It’s such a disaster,” said Jan-Peter Stellema, who works for Médécins sans Frontières in the village of Lamnian.

“Bringing aid by road is not possible. By donkey or by mule might be possible, but air operations are definitely necessary,” he told the BBC.

Jan Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, said Pakistan has deployed its own substantial fleet of helicopters, but that the scale of the disaster requires more choppers and small fixed-wing aircraft.

The US responded by offering eight military helicopters—five twin-rotor Chinooks and three Blackhawks based in neighbouring Afghanistan—and two C-130 aircraft loaded with tents, blankets and other relief supplies.

Afghanistan also said it will send four military helicopters, medical teams and three tonnes of medicine.

The earthquake struck as schools were beginning classes. Hundreds, if not thousands, of children are feared to have died when buildings collapsed or were engulfed by landslides.

Hundreds dead in India

The earthquake also struck the Indian-held zone of Kashmir, where 750 people are confirmed dead and another 2 500 injured. Officials warned many remote villages have yet to be reached and said the death toll will rise.

India’s military, heavily deployed along the de facto border with Pakistan, have taken the lead in the relief work on the Indian side.

Indian army teams are trekking through rugged terrain in the two worst-hit northern areas of Uri and Tangdar, but many villages remain cut off. An estimated 5 000 homes were flattened.

The quake’s epicentre was close to the dividing line between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled zones of Kashmir, and scores of soldiers on both sides died when their heavily fortified positions collapsed around them.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, but a peace process is under way and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reached out to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to offer help.

Despite the warm words, the Indian military said troops on Monday shot dead eight Muslim rebels infiltrating from Pakistan, while suspected rebels killed 11 Hindus as the 16-year insurgency in the state continued.

The violence came even though Kashmir’s main rebel alliance, the United Jihad Council, announced it will suspend militant operations in quake-hit areas of the state.—AFP

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