MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, AP -The death toll in Pakistan”s devastating earthquake rose to nearly 40,000 on Saturday, while rain, snow and frigidly cold weather compounded the misery of millions of homeless victims.
Heavy rain began falling early Saturday in many quake-hit towns and snow fell in the surrounding mountains, disrupting efforts to help an estimated 2 million people lacking shelter ahead of the harsh Himalayan winter. Downpours earlier in the week had grounded helicopters and stopped trucks loaded with relief supplies.
Helicopter relief flights — which have been ferrying supplies into the quake zone and ferrying out the injured — were halted for about an hour and a half Saturday morning before being resumed, except to the northern town of Balakot where the weather was particularly bad. That left hundreds of injured, cold and terrified people waiting by the helipad, hoping for the weather to clear.
In desperately short supply were what was needed most: tents.
"We have begged for tents from relief workers but they say there are no more," said Rehamatullah, a 70-year-old man who hiked to Balakot from a nearby village, looking for supplies. "We”re very worried as our families are staying in the open."
Meanwhile, Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said the death toll from the Oct. 8 quake had risen to 38,000 with 62,000 others injured. More than 1,350 other people have died in neighboring India.
The official toll, which previously stood at 25,000, rose sharply because more bodies have been pulled from the rubble in recent days, army officials said.
At 8:51 a.m., thousands of Muslims gathered at Islamabad”s towering Faisal mosque for special prayers for the dead — exactly a week after the temblor.
Prayer leader Qari Nauman Ahmad urged people to donate what they could to quake victims and seek God”s forgiveness, saying continuing aftershocks were a sign that God was not happy.
Early Saturday, a magnitude-5 aftershock struck the quake-hit zone, but there were no immediate reports of damage or further injury. There have been more than 500 aftershocks over the past week.
Rescue workers abandoned the official search Friday for survivors trapped in the rubble, though individual efforts continued, with an 18-month-old girl reportedly pulled out alive from the ruins of her home in the town of Balimang, in North-West Frontier Province.
Four helicopters, two from the International Red Cross and two from the Pakistan army, landed in the devastated Kashmiri city of Muzaffarabad on Saturday morning, and another army spokesman Maj. Farooq Nasir said the relief operation was on but could change with the weather.
"There are still some affected areas that need to be reached," Sardar Anwar Khan, president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, told reporters in Muzaffarabad. "We desperately need more tents because the winter is on our heads."
More delays could be catastrophic. Seven days after the magnitude-7.6 quake, many outlying villages have still seen no aid. UNICEF warned that thousands of children could die from cold, malnutrition and disease.
Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general and emergency relief coordinator, said he feared bottlenecks of relief supplies.
"If we don”t work together, we will become a disaster within a disaster," he said. He said it would take billions of dollars and "five to 10 years" to rebuild.
A train carrying relief goods donated by neighboring India for the victims of earthquake in Pakistan arrived in the eastern city of Lahore late Friday — the latest gesture of friendship between the erstwhile enemies.
The aid included 12 tons of medicine, five tons of plastic sheets, 5,000 blankets and 370 tents. It was the second consignment of humanitarian aid from India, following relief goods sent earlier by plane.
Most of Pakistan”s deaths were in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir.
The country”s relief commissioner, Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmad Khan, said Pakistan expected to get 2 million blankets and 100,000 large tents before the onset of winter. He said 200,000 houses had been destroyed.
The U.S. military has deployed 13 helicopters to Pakistan, and has begun dropping relief supplies by air from C-130 transport planes. Germany and Afghanistan have also contributed helicopters.
Dozens of countries have donated money and aid. The United Nations on Friday increased its emergency appeal to nearly $312 million. It said helicopters, heavy lifting equipment, winterized tents, field hospitals and medicine are still desperately needed.