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5-Year-Old Is Rescued From Rubble

Workers free a girl unharmed from a collapsed stairwell in Pakistan. Focus turns to aiding 4 million left hurt or homeless by quake.

October 13, 2005|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Russian rescuers Wednesday freed an almost unscathed 5-year-old girl who had been entombed for five days in a collapsed stairwell. But as hope faded of finding many more survivors of last week's earthquake, relief workers turned to aiding the estimated 4 million left hurt or homeless amid the rubble.

A rush of international assistance, more cooperative weather and better coordination among national and foreign relief teams allowed authorities to slowly move food, water and temporary shelter to victims in remote mountain villages.

Still, untold thousands remained stranded beyond piles of rock and debris blocking roads, out of the reach of aid convoys and too numerous to be helped by the few helicopters available.

The rescue of Zarabe Shah from her ruined home in the devastated city of Muzaffarabad gave a lift to those still searching. The Russian crew, using equipment that detects exhaled carbon dioxide, found the girl in a stairwell beneath slabs of shattered concrete. Her short-cropped hair and red print dress were covered with dust as she appeared on Pakistani television afterward, but she was unhurt.

Her mother and siblings had left the city Tuesday after giving up hope of finding other survivors, an uncle told reporters.

At least 30 countries, including Pakistan's archrival, India, have sent planeloads of supplies and emergency workers to treat the injured and erect tents in areas already dusted with snow and gripped by near-freezing temperatures at night. United Nations officials said pneumonia, disease or exposure threatened entire communities.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a detour from a trip through Central Asia to visit Pakistan in the late afternoon, promising more money and supplies to President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-declared war against terrorism.

"I want the people of Pakistan to know that our thoughts are with you," Rice said after meeting with the Pakistani leader and U.S. troops deployed here for the relief effort. "We will be with you, not just today but tomorrow."

In a nationally televised address late Wednesday, Musharraf apologized for the slow pace of rescue and relief operations in the first days after Saturday's magnitude 7.6 quake. He said that damaged highways and the lack of aircraft prevented the immediate movement of aid to the worst-hit areas but that the flow of supplies was much improved. Satellite imagery was being examined to assess needs in desolate areas that are accessible only by foot, he said.

Musharraf called for unity and voiced determination to build stronger communities in the place of those ruined by the quake. He urged Pakistanis not to cast blame in the tragedy.

"We must convert this disaster into improvement," he said. "We cannot bring back those who have lost their lives, but we can certainly improve the lives of those who have been affected."

Noting that the financial burden of response and recovery from such a catastrophe would overwhelm even the wealthiest nation, he thanked other nations -- naming India in particular -- for rushing to Pakistan's side "at this difficult hour." He called on his nation's citizens, especially those with means, to give generously to the relief efforts.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, inspecting relief operations in Muzaffarabad, said food and medical help were flooding into the region over some roads that had been cleared of debris from crumbled buildings, mudslides and dislodged rocks. The city is the capital of the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir, a territory divided between and claimed by both India and Pakistan.

"Step by step, we are getting there. It has to be done in an orderly way," Aziz told reporters of the emergency response. Conceding that some shattered villages had yet to be reached, he appealed for road-clearing crews to fan out from Muzaffarabad so relief convoys could reach isolated areas.

"This is a logical place to start," he said of the city of 125,000, where more than 5,000 people are believed to have died. "As the valleys open, we will spread out to the other areas."

The Pentagon has diverted 12 Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters from their bases in neighboring Afghanistan to ferry injured people to hospitals in Islamabad. Some older apartment houses collapsed in the relatively modern Pakistani capital, but those of newer construction for the most part withstood the temblor and its aftershocks.

The United States has pledged to bring about two dozen more helicopters in the next few days. European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said they were making a few military cargo planes available to move humanitarian aid to the disaster area.

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