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18-Month-Old Is Among the Last to Be Rescued

October 15, 2005|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Shakeela Bibi had been given up for dead.

The bodies of her two older sisters, 7 and 10, had been pulled from the rubble of their home. Her mother was injured by last week's massive earthquake and taken to a field clinic in the nearest town. It took almost six days for her father, Mohammed, to get search-and-rescue workers to comb through the ruins of his flattened home in the shattered village of Balinang.

Pakistani and international relief workers had all but called off the search for survivors of the magnitude 7.6 quake when 18-month-old Shakeela was found unconscious but alive under a door that had fallen fortuitously over her bed. The wooden slab shielded her from collapsing concrete and created an air pocket.

Given oxygen and first aid after her rescue at 2 a.m. Friday, the toddler was decidedly among the living, said Mazhar Hussein, the doctor who treated Shakeela. The girl is being called the disaster's latest miracle child.

"She's fully all right. The left side of her face is injured and she'll need specialized treatment. But she's drinking mango juice and laughing," Hussein said by telephone from a field hospital near Mansehra, one of the most devastated towns in the hard-hit Kashmir region.

The jubilant rescue crew that found Shakeela gave her the oxygen and bandaged her, Hussein said. The underside of her body, on which she'd lain for six days, was blackened, he said.

"We just need some medical experts to help her," Hussein said. He noted that the relief mission was so overwhelmed that instead of performing triage, helicopter evacuation crews simply collected whatever casualties were rushed to the area's makeshift airstrips.

Pakistani and international agencies have turned their attention from search and rescue to getting shelter and food to the survivors, saying that a week after the earthquake, the odds of finding others still alive under the ruins are small.

"The first phase [of emergency response] is search and rescue, but as a phase this is now ending," said Jan Egeland, the United Nations' top official for humanitarian aid and disaster response. "We know from past experience there are always some miracle men, women or children found two or three weeks after. But the reality is that days three and four are in full steam with search and rescue but by days five and six, it's much grimmer."

Before Shakeela was found, the last rescue occurred Wednesday, when a Russian crew using equipment to detect exhaled carbon dioxide discovered 5-year-old Zarabe Shah under a stairwell in her collapsed home in Muzaffarabad. The child's family had despaired of finding her and left for a neighboring town. Only an elderly uncle was there to identify Zarabe when she was extracted, almost unscathed, from the rubble.

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