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Rescue Teams Reach Areas Devastated by Earthquake

Arriving in northern Pakistan, they find flattened villages and hungry survivors.

October 11, 2005|Paul Watson, Zulfiqar Ali and Mubashir Zaidi | Special to The Times

MANSEHRA, Pakistan — Relief workers struggled today to help massive numbers of earthquake victims amid shattered buildings and a lack of medical supplies, water and food in the devastated towns of Pakistan's mountainous north.

The grounds of the destroyed Mansehra District Hospital had been turned into a makeshift relief camp, where thousands of suffering survivors, including about 4,600 with serious injuries, lay in tents, wearing bandages and slings.

Many had severe chest and head injuries, and there was a shortage of antibiotics, injectable painkillers, dressings and other supplies, said Dr. Mohammed Qasim, medical officer at the relief camp.

Despite the efforts of five Pakistani surgical teams operating around the clock, 15 people had died over the last three days, he said.

Ghulam Hussain, 8, lay on a cracked foam mattress in the corner of one tent, clutching a white plastic flute. His swollen foot bore a gaping 3-by-6-inch wound.

Ghulam had been trapped for several hours when the wall of his primary school in the town of Balakot collapsed as he fled his first-grade class, said his brother Iqbal, 14.

"Seventy of his schoolmates lost their lives," Iqbal said. "Luckily, he was outside the classroom when it happened."

International rescue workers arriving in the area Monday were met by scenes of utter devastation.

Barely a building still stood in Balakot, which had a population of about 40,000 people, and victims whose bodies were recovered from the rubble were wrapped in white sheets and reburied in mass graves.

Traffic choked the road overlooking town. Hundreds of Pakistani volunteers were streaming in, many with pickaxes, shovels and sledgehammers. Ambulances with sirens wailing moved in the opposite direction, loaded with the injured.

In Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, hungry survivors jostled for food distributed by local government workers. And in Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province, a medical emergency was declared to expedite treatment of injured survivors trickling in from flattened rural villages.

The death toll from Saturday's magnitude 7.6 quake continued to rise, and Pakistan's Interior Ministry said late Monday that 20,745 people had been killed and 47,000 injured nationwide. The United Nations, meanwhile, estimated that more than 2.5 million people had been rendered homeless as winter approaches in the rugged region.

Rescue teams from Japan, China, France, Hungary and the United Arab Emirates arrived Monday in Balakot and outlying areas to find bodies still hidden under buildings and large numbers of survivors wandering streets without shelter, food, drinking water or emergency medical equipment.

Airlifts of supplies were expected this morning, when eight U.S. military helicopters, which had arrived in Islamabad, the national capital, on Monday from neighboring Afghanistan, were to ferry tents, medicine, blankets and additional equipment to hard-to-reach victims.

Anger appeared on the rise, however, as thousands of desperate survivors continued to await initial aid and heavy equipment to dig out the dead and dying.

In Muzaffarabad, looters reportedly clashed with shopkeepers. And in the Battagram district of North-West Frontier Province, residents said a Japanese team was preparing to launch body recovery operations but that supplies handed out by the Pakistani army had proved painfully inadequate.

"The affected population in Battagram district requires about 40,000 tents and blankets, while the army troops left only 40," said resident Ihsanullah Dawar, reached by phone.

President Pervez Musharraf appealed for patience and calm.

"For heaven's sake, bear with us," the Pakistani leader said. "There are certain limitations. We are trying our best."

Foreign nations have thus far pledged $100 million in disaster relief aid to Pakistan, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters in Islamabad.

Aziz said Balakot had been hit hardest and that unknown numbers of people were dead in numerous villages that relief teams had not yet reached.

Rehman Khan, a receptionist at the Fairyland Hotel in Naran, about 60 miles north of Balakot, said he saw countless destroyed villages as he walked to Balakot. Landslides overturned a dozen trucks on the highway, and the drivers and assistants were dead inside, he added.

A senior Pakistani official here said army engineers had moved heavy machinery to open roads in the area blocked by huge boulders and mud.

Hospital sources said that about 40 people with multiple injuries had been shifted from the Balakot Valley to various hospitals in Peshawar. Bodies were also being transported across the region for burial.

Amir Hamza, 2 1/2 , who suffered serious head injuries and a fractured arm, arrived at the neurology ward of the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar late Sunday night. Amir's mother, in a coma, and his younger sister were admitted to the orthopedic ward.

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