Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Weather Clears, Aid Pours Into Pakistan | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, AP -Helicopters flying in clear skies delivered aid to earthquake survivors Wednesday, a day after rain and hail grounded efforts.

Relief supplies poured into Pakistan from about 30 countries, including from longtime archrival India.

Rescuers on Wednesday pulled a dust-covered 5-year-old out of the rubble, a shot of good news as hopes faded of finding other earthquake survivors. &#34I want to drink,&#34 the girl whispered.

Zarabe Shah”s neighbors on Tuesday recovered the bodies of her father and two of her sisters. Her mother and another two sisters survived.

Many bodies were still buried beneath leveled buildings, and the United Nations warned of the threat of measles, cholera and diarrhea outbreaks among the millions of survivors.

The 7.6-magnitude quake on Saturday demolished whole communities, mostly in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The U.N. estimated that some 4 million people have been affected, including 2 million who have lost their homes.

U.S., Pakistani, German and Afghan helicopters resumed aid flights suspended because of stormy weather. They brought food, medicines and other supplies to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan”s portion of divided Kashmir, and then ferried out the injured to hospitals. Some 50,000 Pakistani troops joined the relief effort.

Still, residents in Muzaffarabad were desperate, mobbing trucks with food and water and grabbing whatever they could. The weak were pushed aside.

Jan Vandemoortele, U.N. Resident Coordinator for Pakistan, said key roads into the quake zone that were blocked earlier have been opened up. U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said that with the resumption of flights, helicopters had been able to unplug any backlog of aid.

About 30 countries_ including the United States, France, Japan, Jordan, China, Russia, Iran, and Syria — have sent relief equipment, doctors, paramedics, tents, blankets, medicines, disaster relief teams. Many have also pledged financial assistance.

&#34Relief material is moving in,&#34 Vandemoortele said in Islamabad. &#34It is getting there. Roads are open now. They were blocked until very recently. We have several trucks that are all loaded and on the road now.&#34

A transport plane bringing tents, medicines and other relief goods from archrival India — also affected by the quake, but less severely than Pakistan — arrived at the air base, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam.

More than 1,400 people have died in India”s part of Kashmir, and the offer and receipt of the aid by Pakistan reflects warming relations between the nuclear-armed rivals, which embarked on a peace process early last year.

The Pakistani government”s official death toll was about 23,000 people and 47,000 injured, but a senior army official who requested anonymity because he wasn”t authorized to release the figure publicly said an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people had died.

Rescue workers fanned out of Muzaffarabad by helicopter to remote regions of Kashmir. Among them were eight teams from the British International Rescue Corps, which has found 16 survivors since arriving in the quake zone nearly three days ago.

&#34As time goes on, hope will get less and less. But you always do get miracles,&#34 said Ray Gray, a stocky man in a blue uniform and helmet, as he prepared to board a chopper. &#34Even if we just find one person, the whole effort is worth it.&#34

Vandemoortele said there have been no reports of epidemic outbreaks so far but the area”s health infrastructure has completely collapsed, he said.

In one field clinic alone, 2,000 patients had been treated, most of them for broken arms or legs. It”s too early for onset of disease, but officials are fully aware of the potential threat, he said.

The quake has damaged sanitation systems in the region, destroyed hospitals and left many victims with no access to clean drinking water, making them more vulnerable to disease.

&#34Measles could potentially become a serious problem,&#34 said Fadela Chaib, a WHO spokeswoman in Geneva. &#34We fear that if people huddle closely together in temporary shelters and crowded conditions, more measles cases could occur.&#34

Measles — potentially deadly for children — are already endemic in the region and only 60 percent of the children are protected. At least 90 percent coverage is needed to prevent an epidemic, WHO said. The agency will soon start gathering essential vaccines for a mass immunization program.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said within the next couple of days there likely would be 25 to 30 U.S. military helicopters sent to Pakistan, from Afghanistan, Bahrain and other countries in the region.