Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Weather promises more misery for Pakistan survivors


Thunderstorms followed by cold weather promised more misery for survivors of the Kashmir earthquake this weekend as the focus of aid efforts turned yesterday from rescue to relief.

Search and rescue operations for any survivors trapped in the rubble from the earthquake have ended and the focus is now on emergency relief for millions of hungry and homeless people, Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary-general and emergency relief coordinator, said yesterday.

"The first phase is search and rescue. As a phase, that has now ended," he said at a news conference in Islamabad. "It's a cruel reality. But after a week, very few people survive."

Egeland said aid agencies were now focusing on providing food and shelter to the millions who need it.

International rescue teams began leaving Pakistani Kashmir, although Pakistani officials denied that the search for survivors had been called off.

The weather forecast for 48 hours from last night threatened to disrupt the emergency effort to assist millions affected by last week's quake, including more than a million made homeless and lacking even basic shelter.

Heavy rain and hailstorms in the mountainous earthquake zone in Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province earlier in the week forced a temporary suspension of flights bringing in essential relief supplies.

More rain is also likely to hamper movement of emergency supplies by road, even as the UN says it is in a race against time to provide aid to people before the winter sets in.

The official death toll of 25,000 in Pakistani Kashmir is expected to rise. Some local officials and politicians say deaths could exceed 40,000. Another 1,200 died in Indian Kashmir.

Strong night-time aftershocks have added to the misery.

An aftershock at around 2am yesterday sent people who had been sleeping on the pavement in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, leaping to the middle of the road before drifting back.

Local meteorological officials said there were 70 aftershocks in a 24-hour period between Wed-nesday and Thursday, and the seismic activity was likely to continue for months, maybe years.

Egeland called for a more urgent world aid response. He said there was still an acute shortage of helicopters essential to reach remote villages and about three times as many were needed.

There had been an outpouring of support and an enormous wave of sympathy from around the world, Egeland said, but added: "I would like to see it being even more quick [than] this response."

"This is a very major earthquake but it's really aggravated a thousand times by the topography. An earthquake is bad anywhere; in the Himalayas it becomes much worse," he said.

"My biggest worry today is that we will have tremendous bottlenecks," he said. "If we don't work together, we will become a disaster within a disaster."

The army has been dropping supplies to villages cut off from help in remote valleys. Where valleys were too narrow for helicopters, mule-trains are being sent to carry in the food, blankets and tents people need to survive.

But for the villagers, these are temporary steps -- they want assurances they were not going to be cut off for the winter.

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Red tape ties up India's relief aid

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