Quake toll jumps to 79 000, say regions

New casualty figures from the South Asian earthquake have pushed the death toll to more than 79 000, regional officials said on Wednesday. The new numbers come as two strong aftershocks jolted the devastated region, unleashing landslides and setting off another wave of panic among survivors who lost loved ones and homes in the October 8 disaster.

Asif Iqbal Daudzai, information minister for Pakistan’s North West Frontier province, said on Wednesday that 37 958 people died in the province and at least 23 172 were injured, the vast majority of them in Mansehra district. He said the figures are based on reports from local government and hospital officials, and that the toll is likely to rise.

The prime minister of neighbouring Pakistani-held Kashmir, Sikander Hayat Khan, said at least 40 000 people died in that region.
India has reported 1 360 deaths in the part of Kashmir that it controls.

The new toll by local officials is higher than the official count provided each day by the central government. That number was raised to 47 700 confirmed dead by Wednesday, with a warning that it would rise further. The central government count has lagged behind the local count since the early days of the disaster.

Heavy aftershocks

Wednesday morning’s 5,8-magnitude aftershock struck 129km north of Islamabad, near the epicentre of the main quake, according to the United States National Earthquake Centre in Colorado. It was followed by another in the same area about 45 minutes later that registered 5,6.

The first aftershock caused a landslide in Balakot, one of the cities hardest hit by the initial quake. Debris covered the road to nearby Mansehra, but it was quickly cleared, said Pakistani Army Lieutenant Colonel Saeed Iqbal, who is in charge of relief efforts in the area.

A landslide also blocked a road out of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, but it was expected to be cleared later in the day.

Iqbal said the aftershock was “very heavy” and that he saw dust rising from the Kaghan Valley north of Balakot, possibly indicating an additional landslide. He said he had no immediate reports from his 60 teams of soldiers that were carrying in relief goods in the vicinity.

In Indian-held Kashmir, the new tremors startled thousands of people in relief camps, including those in the worst-hit Uri and Tangdar districts close to the boundary with Pakistan-held territory. Police said there were no reports of landslides or damage to buildings.

Hundreds of aftershocks have struck the region since the October 8 quake.

“They’re not over,” said Waverly Person, a seismologist at the US quake centre. “For a shallow-depth earthquake like this they go on, sometimes for a year.”

Millions still without help

Despite brisk sorties of helicopters delivering aid to quake victims, an estimated half-million survivors, many of them in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, have yet to receive any help since the monster 7,6-magnitude quake levelled entire villages. Thousands need urgent medical care.

The problem is worst in the estimated 1 000 settlements outside the main cities and towns, said regional United Nations disaster coordinator Rob Holden.

“Many people out there, we are not going to get to in time,” Holden said. “Some people who have injuries don’t have a chance of survival.”

In Balakot, villagers scavenged for food, clothes or building material.

“We need help,” said resident Basim Qassir. “There’s been deliveries, but it’s just not enough.”

Touring Balakot, President General Pervez Musharraf said he expected reconstruction of the area to take years, and that the government will try to get prefabricated homes for victims since they take less time to rebuild.

World ‘not doing enough’

In Beijing, the UN’s top relief coordinator on Wednesday said the international community is not doing enough to help and should step up relief efforts.

Jan Egeland, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, urged China to help because it borders the hard-hit area of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and has a stockpile of winterised tents.

Egeland asked China for 20 000 winter tents, 10 helicopters and as much cash as possible—hinting at $20-million.

Beijing, a close ally of Pakistan, has already pledged $6,2-million directly to Islamabad and sent tents, blankets, water-purifying tablets, rescue equipment and a search team.

The weather was chilly but clear on Wednesday, dipping down to five degrees Celsius overnight.

India was mulling Pakistan’s proposal to help quake victims in Kashmir by allowing residents to cross the frontier that divides the disputed territory between them, the latest sign of cooperation between the nuclear-armed rivals since this month’s disaster.

India, which has sent quake relief supplies to Pakistan, hailed the plan but said it was awaiting details. New Delhi earlier had offered helicopters to assist in relief missions, but turned down a Pakistani suggestion that it send military helicopters without crews.—Sapa-AP

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