MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, AP -A halt in heavy rains Monday allowed helicopter relief flights to resume across Pakistan”s quake zone, but fresh landslides hampered efforts to move supplies by road. Officials estimated the death toll could now be more than 54,000.
Eight international medical teams took off from Muzaffarabad to outlying villages, as fears grew for millions of survivors without health care and shelter in the isolated mountains of Kashmir. U.S. diplomat Geoffrey Krassy estimated that about one-fifth of populated areas had yet to be reached.
"There are serious patients with infected wounds and gangrene," said Sebastian Nouak of the International Committee of the Red Cross, after a team of its doctors landed in Chekar, about 40 miles east of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan”s part of the divided Himalayan region.
He said about 200 people in the town had not received any medical help since the 7.6 magnitude quake struck on Oct. 8, and landing choppers there was dangerous because desperate villagers rushed into the landing area.
In the town of Bagh, the bodies of six soldiers killed when their MI-17 transport helicopter crashed in bad weather Saturday were lain into simple wooden coffins for transport back to Islamabad.
On the Indian side of Kashmir, conditions were grim on Monday. Torrential rain and snow turned roads into rivers of mud, stranding trucks loaded with relief supplies for the worst-affected Uri and Tangdhar areas, officials said.
Officials on Sunday sharply raised estimates of the dead. Abdul Khaliq Wasi, a spokesman for the local government of Pakistani Kashmir, said at least 40,000 people died there and that the toll could go much higher. Not all the bodies had been counted and the figure represented the "closest estimate," he said.
That pushed estimates of the total death toll to more than 54,000, including more than 13,000 in Pakistan”s North West Frontier Province and about 1,350 in the part of divided Kashmir that India controls.
Confirmation of a final toll will be difficult because many bodies are buried beneath rubble. U.N. officials said that, so far, they were adhering to the Pakistani government”s confirmed casualty toll, which was 39,422.
The United Nations has estimated that 2 million are homeless.
Helicopter missions in Pakistan resumed on Monday after being grounded for most of Sunday because of heavy rain and thunderstorms, which piled on the distress for the homeless across the quake zone.
Nouak of the Red Cross said one of its relief flights to Chekar had to turn back over the weekend because villagers were fighting each other for supplies.
"They had sticks and they were fighting for relief goods. There was no perimeter security and we felt threatened," he said.
Dozens of trucks have rolled into Muzaffarabad over the past day or so, but road access further afield remains difficult. The Pakistani military said it could take several weeks to clear landslides blocking routes to several valleys.
Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan, the country”s relief commissioner, said 29,000 tents and 118,000 blankets had been distributed in the quake zone. Khan had said earlier that 100,000 tents were needed.
Meanwhile, Indian authorities were struggling to deliver supplies in its side of Kashmir, where there were at least 140,000 homeless and people were huddling in rain-sodden tents as temperatures plummeted.
B.B. Vyas, divisional commissioner of Jammu-Kashmir, said air dropping of supplies to outlying areas was halted because of the bad weather. The road to Tangdhar, buried under 10 inches of snow, was closed, cutting off the town.