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Death Toll in Pakistan May Be Much Higher

Officials and relief workers in the north say quake may have killed as many as 100,000 people. Winter could threaten many homeless.

October 18, 2005|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Relief officials and local government leaders in northern Pakistan have reported dramatically higher death tolls from the devastating Oct. 8 earthquake, with estimates reaching 100,000, the army's chief spokesman said Monday.

The government has decided against revising its official estimate of 38,000 killed until its relief coordinator completes a survey, but it acknowledges that the final toll is likely to be much higher, said the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.

In the meantime, the government is reluctant to endorse the increased field estimates because of the implications for the compensation it will offer victims, Sultan said. Parliament approved about $85 million in aid to quake victims a week ago, when the official toll was just under 20,000.

But Sultan confirmed that a trusted philanthropist reassessing casualties from the magnitude 7.6 quake had estimated the number killed to be about 100,000. That report came from Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose namesake foundation has been leading relief efforts, he said.

A spokesman for the governor of the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, Abdul Khaliq Wasi, told reporters in shattered Muzaffarabad that 40,000 had been confirmed dead in his territory alone. With the known deaths in neighboring North-West Frontier Province and the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, that would put the toll at more than 54,000.

In Islamabad, a government official who received reports of many villages being discovered buried under rubble estimated that about 80,000 people had died.

"My personal assessment, after having traveled extensively in the area, is 80,000, plus or minus," said the official, who did not want to be identified because of the government's policy of awaiting the results of the survey by the relief commissioner, Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmad Khan.

Adnan Asdar, a volunteer coordinating surgeries and medical evacuations in Muzaffarabad, said he had calculated at least 75,000 deaths and said the number could swell unless the homeless were provided with adequate shelter before winter sets in. Snow has already begun dusting the Himalayan foothills where the quake was most destructive.

A driving rain that had grounded the humanitarian airlift stopped early Monday, allowing resumption of air drops to remote mountain hamlets and evacuation of dozens of injured from isolated villages. More than 1,200 sorties were flown by an international fleet of 60 choppers, Khan said.

But as much as 20% of the territory ravaged by the earthquake has yet to receive any food, medical care or shelter because it is cut off by landslides or at altitudes too high for helicopters to operate, relief officials said.

"I don't know how much of a dent we put in that today, but we had a lot of activity," said Geoffrey Krassy, a U.S. diplomat in Pakistan usually involved with anti-narcotics operations who is working on earthquake relief.

He estimated that at least 20 tons of food, medicine and shelter had been delivered Monday by the American helicopters alone.

Several thousand injured are believed to be stranded in mountain villages, and humanitarian relief workers have warned that many will die of infections unless they are treated soon.

People able to make the trek down steep goat tracks have taken to carrying the injured over the rugged terrain to field hospitals. There are now 30 such hospitals where doctors can perform minor surgery, the relief commissioner said.

Some aid groups have begun using backpacks and mules to bring tents, blankets, food and medicine to highland settlements.

The United Nations estimates that the quake left 3 million people homeless. Pakistani authorities reiterate an appeal for more tents to protect survivors from the elements. Khan, the relief commissioner, said that 250,000 tents were needed but that only 33,000 had been mustered.

In an article Monday, the Nation newspaper reported that tent makers in Lahore and Karachi had been unable to step up production because of shortages of material, and that costs had shot up at least 33% from the pressure to accelerate output. The two main producers turn out about 300 tents a day.

Not all of the news was grim. Authorities said at least 70% of surviving structures in Muzaffarabad had power restored Monday, although there were few lights visible beyond the main relief compounds.

Health Minister Mohammed Naseer Khan said that vaccination squads were being deployed and that no epidemics had yet hit the region, despite a dearth of clean water and the difficult living conditions for many people crowded in leaky, unheated tents.

Two U.S. Navy vessels docked at Karachi and began unloading heavy equipment for transport to the quake area.

Earth movers and other machinery were sent to clear roads so aid convoys could reach deeper into the ruined area with bigger relief loads. An Army MASH unit was also en route from Germany.

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