Villagers recount quake horror in the mountains

Villages wiped off the map, bodies rotting, survivors walking hours for water—earthquake victims fleeing Kashmir’s still inaccessible mountains recount the same apocalyptic tales.

As villagers trudge into Pakistani Kashmir’s ravaged capital, Muzaffarabad, or are flown in by helicopter, they recount stories of entire towns razed and out of reach of food and medicine.

Petehka, 15km south of Muzaffarabad, used to be the village where people from the surrounding hills would come in to work, shop and go to school.

“There were 100 houses and they were all demolished. Not one is left,” said Gulzman, an 80-year-old who served on the local council.

“The schools crumbled down on 3 000 schoolchildren and 1 000 high schoolers. None of them could escape,” he said.

Left to fend for themselves, survivors picked through the rubble with their bare hands and pulled out 40 people still alive under the bricks.
But they also found 1 500 bodies, Gulzman said.

“The stench is unbearable. There are also a lot of animals’ bodies decomposing,” he said.

A similar tragedy unfolded in Seabur, 20km south of Muzaffarabad.

“Only those who were outside survived,” said Mir Arif, a 30-year-old civil servant. About 500 houses were flattened and 150 people were killed, with more than half of them still buried, he said.

“The village is up high. There isn’t any shelter. People are living in the fields and sleeping on the ground under the open sky, even though it’s so cold. They can’t feed themselves. They’re eating raw corn from the fields,” he said.

“To drink, they gather water when it rains with broken utensils or plastic bags. There are already seven cases of diarrhoea and cholera,” he said.

Ashiq Hussain, a 50-year-old teacher, said there is also a desperate struggle for life in his village of Balgran, 45km south of Muzaffarabad, where about 300 bodies were found under the rubble.

“There aren’t any shelters or blankets. The women and children cry at night. They cry every day. If we don’t get tents and supplies, the entire village is going to die of hunger and cold,” he said.

Half of Dhanni village high in the mountains fell in or across the Neelam River. Other buildings crumbled within seconds. About 900 people could have died in the village, with 225 bodies recovered, residents who escaped said.

The village, which lies 5km from Muzaffarabad, got packets of biscuits and some other food thrown from helicopters.

“But it’s not enough. People are hungry. There isn’t any water. We have to walk five hours to the river to carry back water in plastic bags. Everyone who is able-bodied spends their days doing that,” said Mohammed Irshad, a 24-year-old shop worker.

More than 25 000 people died in Pakistan and 1 300 in India in Saturday’s earthquake. About 2,5-million people are homeless in Pakistan.

Alain Pasche, coordinator of the United Nations operations centre in Muzaffarabad, said the situation remains particularly desperate in the outlying villages.

“They haven’t received any supplies. There are villages that are remote and small hamlets scattered everywhere. There is no access by road,” he said. “They’re hungry. Many of the injured won’t survive.”

At Balakot, another ruined city about 40km north of Muzaffarabad, a man called Qasim said he had walked across the mountains at night for four hours from his outlying village, carrying his wounded wife.

At last delivering her into the care of doctors, he said he had waited days for help to arrive at his village of Gangula Sharif, but none came.

“We stayed without saying anything, without eating. We were scared. Stones were falling everywhere in the mountains. I had no idea what had happened,” he said. “I could only think one thing: if she died, I would die too.”—AFP

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