Aid flights resume in quake-hit Pakistan

United Nations helicopters resumed vital relief flights to quake-hit parts of Pakistan on Wednesday after being suspended for three days by heavy rain and snow, officials said.

Up to 18 helicopters will be flying extra sorties to make up for lost time and get supplies to cold and hungry survivors of the October 8 disaster, which killed more than 73 000 people in Pakistan, UN spokesperson Ben Malor said.

“All helicopter flights resumed this morning,” Malor said. “They are back and trying to catch up by deploying all available helicopters to cover all routes as quickly as possible.”

Malor said some flights were briefly halted early on Wednesday as pilots waited for heavy fog to clear over Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

The flights were first cancelled on Sunday, a day after torrential rain began lashing lower-lying parts of the disaster zone and blizzards dumped snow on higher areas.

Former US president George Bush Snr was forced to cancel a visit to Muzaffarabad on Tuesday because of the weather. He visited a tented camp for earthquake survivors in Islamabad instead and left Pakistan late on Tuesday.

Up to 3,5-million people were left homeless by the 7,6-magnitude earthquake and helicopters have been essential to get supplies to the remote Himalayan areas that were affected.

The recent rainy spell, the second patch of extreme weather this year, collapsed many survivors’ tents and caused landslides that blocked some key roads in Kashmir and North West Frontier province.

A group of doctors from Nato closed its hospital in shattered Kashmir and left Pakistan on Tuesday, ahead of the military alliance’s complete pull-out of its 1 000-strong team in Pakistan by the beginning of February.

“They saved thousands of lives and improved many more.
They brought hope to the people of Pakistan when they most needed it,” a statement quoted Nato contingent’s commander Air Commodore Andrew Walton as saying.

The hospital consisted of doctors, nurses and support staff from The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, France, Portugal and Britain, and supported mobile teams that used mules and helicopters to reach remote areas.

Meanwhile, the government of Pakistan-ruled Kashmir said it is about to complete the registration of survivors in the camps in a bid to make sure that all are getting enough support and relief goods.

The government has set up about 80 camps for quake survivors in Bagh and Muzaffarabad districts, where about 80 000 survivors have taken shelter, Khan said. Thousands more are living in “spontaneous” camps.

Separately, a Turkish charity said it is providing folding beds to survivors so they can sleep off the ground when rain floods their tents.—AFP

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