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Storms Ground Pakistan Aid Copters for a Day

October 17, 2005|From Times Wire Services

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — Thunderstorms frustrated earthquake relief operations Sunday, grounding all but a few helicopter flights to stricken areas of the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir and this country's North-West Frontier Province.

This morning, the heavy rains halted and eight international medical teams took off for outlying villages.

The Pakistani army, leading the relief effort, has yet to reach villages cut off by landslides in Kashmir's Neelum and Jhelum valleys, where a heavy loss of life is feared.

"What we have heard from our pilots and the other pilots around, roughly 20% of the affected area has yet to be reached," said Geoffrey Krassy, senior aviation advisor at the U.S. Embassy.

Some tent villages were already springing up, but Pakistan is desperate for other nations to send more tents to get people under shelter before winter hits the Himalayan foothills later this month.

Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmad Khan, the Pakistani relief commissioner, said 29,000 tents and 118,000 blankets had been distributed in the quake zone, but he estimated that 100,000 tents were needed.

The army said medical supplies such as syringes, painkillers and antibiotics also were scarce.

Close to 40,000 people have been confirmed dead, and at least 65,000 injured, putting the disaster on a par with a quake that almost destroyed the city of Quetta in 1935.

An additional 1,300 people died on the Indian side of the border.

The toll is expected to rise, even without the threat bad weather poses to people without adequate shelter. There are also fears of disease from tainted drinking water.

A pilot of one of the U.S. helicopters dispatched from the fight against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan said some Kashmir villages looked normal from the air, but consisted only of intact roofs lying on the ground.

There was confusion about reports of soldiers rescuing a girl from the rubble of her home Sunday.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said a girl with polio was pulled from her flattened home near Balakot.

But army Maj. Majid Jahangir in Balakot said the girl, described as 10 or 11, had been unable to walk and was merely carried from her village by soldiers.

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