Strong aftershock shakes devastated Pakistan

A strong aftershock shook Pakistan on Thursday, rattling the nerves of those who lived through last weekend’s devastating earthquake and bringing an even greater sense of urgency to efforts to find survivors under the precarious rubble.

The 5,6-magnitude aftershock was centred 135km north of Islamabad, near the epicentre of Saturday’s 7,6-magnitude quake that demolished whole towns, mostly in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. It shook buildings but no new damage was immediately reported.

“There was a lot of panic. People were scared.
Even those who were sleeping in tents came out. Everybody was crying. We feared this might be like the big one,” said Nisar Abbasi (36), an accountant who has been camping on the lawn of his destroyed home in Muzaffarabad.

There have been dozens of aftershocks since the main quake, including a 6,2-magnitude temblor.

“They will go on for months, possibly years,” said Don Blakeman, geophysicist at the United States Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Centre.

About a dozen men worked through the night in Islamabad looking for survivors from a 10-storey apartment building that collapsed on Saturday, the only serious damage in Pakistan’s capital.

They pulled out two bodies on Thursday morning, which they quickly covered in burial shrouds, but found no signs of life. One of the victims was identified by searchers as a woman of dual Norwegian-Pakistani nationality.

Dwindling hopes

Hope of finding survivors was also dwindling in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, where Britain’s Department for International Development was pulling out its team of 60 search and rescue workers, said Rob Holden, the team leader for United Nations disaster assessment and coordination, which is overseeing the overall rescue effort.

“No one is giving up, but it is the acceptance that the actual real chances of finding someone alive are almost nil, so we don’t need all the specialist international teams,” Holden said, adding that there are still 18 international teams in the region.

“We have enough teams here to finish off the search and rescue,” he said.

A Russian team on Wednesday rescued a five-year-old girl in Muzaffarabad, who had been trapped for nearly 100 hours in the rubble. A day earlier, her neighbours had recovered the bodies of her father and two of her sisters, but her mother and another two sisters survived.

Trucks and helicopters with aid from dozens of countries choked the roads up to the crumbling towns of Kashmir, but the hungry and the homeless in many hard-hit areas were still in desperate straits five days after the temblor struck.

The death toll is believed to be more than 35 000, and tens of thousands more were injured.

“No country is ready for such a disaster,” said President General Pervez Musharraf in a nationally televised address on Wednesday, acknowledging initial delays in his government response but saying the relief operation is now in full swing.

Aid flights

German, Afghan, Pakistani and US helicopters delivered tents, blankets and medical equipment, and brought back dozens of badly injured people on each return flight on Wednesday. The choppers flew in clear skies after stormy weather forced the suspension of flights on Tuesday.

Eight US helicopters flew 53 sorties to the affected region on Wednesday, transporting more than 1 000 people—rescue workers in, and injured Pakistanis out—said Lieutenant Colonel Jerry O’Hara, spokesperson for the US base at Bagram, Afghanistan, where the helicopters are normally based.

The helicopters also brought in 56 000kg of supplies and equipment, O’Hara said.

The UN estimated about four million people were affected, including two million who lost homes, and warned that measles and other diseases could break out. About 50 000 Pakistani troops joined the relief effort.

Some roads to the badly hit town of Bagh, south-east of Muzaffarabad, remain blocked because of quake-induced landslides.

But key roads into the quake zone that were blocked earlier have now been opened up, said Jan Vandemoortele, UN resident coordinator for Pakistan.

“Relief material is moving in,” Vandemoortele said in Islamabad on Wednesday. “It is getting there. Roads are open now. They were blocked until very recently. We have several trucks that are all loaded and on the road now.”

About 30 countries have sent relief equipment, doctors, paramedics, tents, blankets, medicine and disaster-relief teams.

Residents in Muzaffarabad were desperate, mobbing trucks with food and water and grabbing whatever they could. The weak were pushed aside.—Sapa-AP

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