Looting breaks out in quake-hit area

Aircraft rushed in supplies from abroad and Washington pledged $50-million in aid on Monday as hungry families displaced in Pakistan’s worst earthquake huddled in tents and shopkeepers clashed with looters. Death-toll estimates ranged from 20 000 to 40 000.

The United Nations said more than 2,5-million people were left homeless by Saturday’s monster 7,6-magnitude quake, which razed entire villages, and doctors warned of an outbreak of disease unless more relief arrives soon.

With landslides blocking roads to many of the worst-hit areas, Pakistan’s army was flying food, water and medicine into the disaster zone. Flights carrying rescue teams and supplies arrived in Islamabad, including eight United States military helicopters from Afghanistan.

Washington pledged up to $50-million in relief and reconstruction aid, US ambassador Ryan Crocker said.

“The magnitude of this disaster is utterly overwhelming,” Crocker said.
“We have under way the beginning of a very major relief effort.”

Most of the dead were in Pakistan’s mountainous north. India reported at least 865 deaths, and Afghanistan reported four.

In the shattered streets of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan’s portion of divided Kashmir, an Associated Press reporter saw shopkeepers scuffle with people trying to break into shuttered businesses. They beat each other with sticks, and some people suffered head wounds. No police were in the area.

Residents said looters are also targeting deserted homes, and even gas stations. Survivors lack food and water amid little sign of any official coordination of relief in the devastated city of 600 000, where at least 11 000 people died.

Masood-ur Rehman, assistant commissioner of the city, said 90% of Muzaffarabad, and all of its government and educational institutions, were destroyed.

“Bodies are scattered in the city,” he said. “Ninety percent of victims are still buried under the debris. We are facing problems in the rescue operation as the roads are blocked. We are helpless. The city is out of order.”

Dire conditions

About 2 000 residents of Muzaffarabad huddled around camp fires through the cold night on a soccer field on the city’s university campus, where hundreds were feared buried in collapsed classrooms and dormitories. Soldiers burrowed into the concrete with shovels and iron bars.

“I don’t think anybody is alive in this pile of rubble,” rescue worker Uzair Khan said. “But we have not lost hope.”

On the soccer field, Mohammed Ullah Khan (50) said a few biscuits handed out by relief workers were his only food for three days. His three-storey home had collapsed in the quake. His family of 10 people survived because they were on the top floor, which crashed to the ground.

“My children are now on a hillside, under the open sky, with nothing to eat,” he said.

A doctor, Iqbal Khan, said there is a serious risk of outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia if drinking water and other relief supplies do not arrive quickly.

An eight-member team of British rescuers using a sniffer dog, drills, chain saws and crowbars pulled a 20-year-old tailor from the rubble on Monday, 54 hours after a two-storey building collapsed over him and dozens of others.

The man, Tariq, was wide-eyed and covered in dust when he emerged, and he begged for water.

“I haven’t eaten in three days, but I’m not hungry,” said Tariq, who suffered a leg injury and was carried away on a door serving as a stretcher. He had been trapped beneath concrete and wooden beams, and a dead body lay on either side of him.

In Balakot, a badly hit town in North West Frontier province, townspeople broke through a heap of concrete at a school and rescued two girls after hearing cries for help. A crowd pulled to safety the first girl, in a green shirt and with a gold bracelet on her arm.

The second girl, a toddler, had scratches on her face. Several men brushed dust from her clothing and gave her water.

Worst quake on record

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

India said Pakistan has declined its offer of helicopters, while Pakistan ruled out joint rescue operations with India, saying there are no people living along their frontier that need help. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over the Kashmir region, though they have pursued peace in recent months.

Pakistan’s Information Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, said the death toll is more than 20 000. The top elected official in Kashmir, Sardar Sikandar Hayat, said that more than 25 000 people had died there, with “countless” injured. Tariq Mahmood, the province’s communications minister, put the toll at more than 30 000.

Andrew Macleod, a member of a UN emergency team that arrived in Pakistan to assess the disaster, said the death toll is likely to rise because many victims are still buried underneath the rubble.

“I wouldn’t find a figure of 30 000 or 40 000 surprising,” he said.

The quake was felt across a wide swathe of South Asia, with damage spanning at least 400km from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in northern Indian territory.

The UN has urgently appealed for donations. Planes with international aid have arrived from Monday from Turkey, Britain, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Russia, China and Germany also offered assistance.

US forces in Afghanistan sent five Chinook transport helicopters and three Blackhawk helicopters to Pakistan.

“Pakistan is one of our closest allies in the war on terror and we want to help them in this time of crisis,” said Sergeant Marina Evans, a US military spokesperson in Kabul. “The terrorists make us out as the infidels, but this is not true and we hope this mission will show that.”—Sapa-AP

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