Quake survivors suffer in harsh winter

Survivors of the devastating earthquake that shook Kashmir three months ago are showing signs of hypothermia and frostbite, a doctor said on Monday, as temperatures plunged below zero.

“We have started receiving people with frost bite, pneumonia and other cold-related diseases,” said Bashir Chalko, a doctor in Uri district of Indian Kashmir, which was badly damaged in the October 8 earthquake.

Chalko fears the situation for survivors still living in temporary shelters after their homes were destroyed will get worse as cold conditions continued.

Uri and neighbouring Tangdhar sector were hardest hit by the temblor that killed about 1 300 people in Indian Kashmir and left more than 150 000 others homeless.

The 7,6-magnitude quake killed at least another 74 000 people in Pakistan and its portion of Kashmir.

Survivors living in tents and tin shacks next to their ruined homes said they are also concerned about avalanches.

“We are living under constant fear of snow avalanches,” said 21-year-old Nadeem Abbasi, a farmer from Gwalta village in northern Uri.

“Never ever in my life have I experienced such cold,” Abbasi said by telephone. “We are freezing in our unheated shelters,” he said, urging authorities to move villagers from Gwalta, a hamlet in the mountains, to shelters in the plains.

“We did construct shelters, but there is hardly any arrangement for heating,” said 55-year-old Mohammed Yusuf, of Uri, adding that firewood and kerosene are scarce and all families in the area are suffering.

But officials in the two devastated districts say survivors have the option of moving to accommodation constructed by authorities rather than staying in their makeshift shelters.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad appealed to survivors to move to these weather-proof shelters for health reasons, adding that living in unsafe and damaged structures is also dangerous.

“People should urgently shift to the shelter homes constructed for their safety and welfare,” said Azad. “If survivors do not move to shelter houses, the very purpose of protecting [them] from the weather vagaries gets defeated.”

Some survivors are reluctant to move as they cannot keep watch over their livestock and ruined homes in the government-approved shelters, which they say are far from their villages.

Weather-department officials said the cold wave is likely to continue.

“It is likely going to rain or snow again in the higher reaches of Kashmir and I don’t see any hope of weather conditions improving,” said LC Ram, the head of the weather department in Srinagar, summer capital of Indian Kashmir.

The maximum temperature recorded on Sunday, he said, was 0,2 degrees Celsius, about five degrees below normal and a record low in the past 10 years.

The temperature hit a low of -2,7 degrees Celsius overnight, he added.

Ram said the drop in temperature has led to the freezing of lakes, including Lake Dal, the main tourist attraction in Srinagar.

“All other high-altitude lakes have frozen in Kashmir,” he said.

Kashmir received the season’s first major snowfall at the start of the new year and since then bitterly cold conditions have continued.

The snowfall has disrupted power lines and shut roads to remote areas, officials said, while doctors have advised the elderly and children to stay indoors.—Sapa-AFP


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