Aid workers fear second wave of quake deaths

Thousands of injured people languished without shelter and medical care on Tuesday in villages across the earthquake-stricken region of Kashmir and authorities warned that exposure and infections could drive the death toll up from 54 000 as the harsh Himalayan winter looms.

The Pakistani military, civilian volunteers and international aid groups are rushing aid and doctors to the region as fast as the logistical challenges allow. Landslides caused by the 7,6-magnitude earthquake on October 8 cut off many roads, which will take several weeks to clear.

Helicopters resumed flying relief missions on Monday after heavy rains forced the suspension of most flights, and sunny skies in the affected region on Tuesday morning meant they would be able to continue their work.

The first helicopter arrived at daybreak in Bagh, a German search-and-rescue Sikorsky bringing 20 tents and other much-needed supplies to the city. The helicopter, which was broken away from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to aid the relief effort, was then loaded up with injured people to be brought to hospitals.

Aftershocks continued shaking the region, with 41 registered on Monday, including one of 5,1 magnitude, though no further damage was reported, Pakistan’s seismological centre in Peshawar said on Tuesday.
There have been 716 aftershocks since the main quake.

In addition to those killed, about 80 000 people were injured in the quake and many are in desperate need of medical care. The United Nations has estimated 3,3-million were left without homes and need food and shelter ahead of the approaching winter, with snow already falling in some affected areas.

Aid effort

Major General Farooq Ahmed Khan, Pakistan’s top relief official, said 33 000 tents and 130 000 blankets have been distributed to quake survivors. He said 260 000 tents and two million blankets are needed.

Packages of food and blankets have been dropped to more than 580 remote villages in the Muzaffarabad district, army spokesperson Colonel Rana Sajjad said.

“It’s very difficult to reach each and every place,” he said, adding many people have walked into the bigger settlements from the mountains seeking aid.

Eighty Pakistani soldiers were flown by helicopter into the Neelum Valley, about 25km north-east of Muzaffarabad, to carry emergency rations and other relief supplies on foot to those in need, the army said.

Soldiers also drove mule teams with relief supplies to some of the region’s steep-sided villages, crossing people with bundles on their shoulders carefully walking down to lower elevations.

Patients with infected wounds and gangrene are languishing in remote areas, Red Cross official Sebastian Nowak said after a team of the group’s doctors landed on Monday in Chekar, 60km east of Muzaffarabad.

In the part of divided Kashmir that India controls, torrential rain and snow hampered relief operations on Monday as roads to the badly hit Uri and Tangdhar areas were cut off from the rest of the region. Trucks loaded with supplies were stranded on mountain roads, and survivors huddled in rain-sodden tents and lit fires to keep warm.

In Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, authorities said the death toll from a collapsed apartment block—the city’s only building destroyed in the quake—rose to 62 as more bodies were found.

Nineteen other people are missing.

The local government of Pakistani-held Kashmir estimated that at least 40 000 people died there. Officials reported another 13 000 deaths in Pakistan’s North West Frontier province, and India said 1 360 people died in its portion of Kashmir.—Sapa-AP

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