Pakistan quake survivors wait for aid

October 30, 2008 12:00 am

, PAKISTAN, October 30 – Thousands of villagers in southwest Pakistan waited for aid in freezing conditions Thursday after a powerful earthquake that destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least 215 people.

The 6.4-magnitude pre-dawn quake on Wednesday flattened mud-brick houses and triggered landslides in the impoverished province of Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan, killing or injuring their occupants as they slept.

International and Pakistani agencies were struggling to get help to survivors who spent the night in the open, with rescuers discovering more victims as they reached remote villages that had still not seen any aid.

"The total I had last night was 215 dead. This figure may go up as there were whole families who disappeared in the disaster," provincial revenue minister Zamarak Khan told AFP.

Some of the new deaths were caused by a strong aftershock on Wednesday, he said.

Destitute survivors sat beside campfires or huddled together as day broke over the mountainous quake zone bordering Afghanistan.

"We are doomed," said Mohammed Hashim, a resident of Wam, the worst affected of eight villages that were hit hard by the quake. "We have nothing left to save our families from the cold in the night."

Officials said at least 6,000 and possibly twice as many had been made homeless by the quake.

Relief was coming in slowly, mainly because key roads had been damaged, said Amjad Rashid, head of the Taraqi (development) Foundation, a local non-governmental organisation.

"People are not satisfied. They are demanding more and more, they say the relief operation should be expedited," Rashid said.

The Pakistani military says soldiers, helicopters, tents, blankets, food and medical help have been sent from Quetta, the provincial capital, to Ziarat and an aerial assessment of the damage has begun.

The World Health Organisation said it was sending enough medical aid and supplies for 50,000 people. It is also flying trauma supplies stored at the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai to treat 400 people into the region.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands may have lost their homes and hundreds may have died in the temblor.

The United States, Canada and Pakistan’s regional rival India also offered to send humanitarian relief.

But in another far-flung village, Killi Baio Khan, the village chieftain made a desperate appeal for supplies.

"The urgent need is warm clothes, blankets, tents and food," said Haji Baio Khan. "The military have set up their camps and providing food but that is not enough."

Some 46,000 people living in the wider region, especially near the historic hill resort of Ziarat, could now be in need of shelter and other assistance, officials said.

An AFP correspondent in Wam said emergency tents had not arrived by Thursday morning, forcing exhausted villagers to hunker down in the ruined shells of their homes.

They spent the previous day in a desperate search for loved ones or burying the dead in mass graves, as aftershocks nearly as big as the initial quake pounded the landscape, sending rocks spewing from nearby peaks and sparking fresh panic.

Virtually all houses were reduced to rubble either in the initial quake or by aftershocks. Schools and hospitals were also damaged.

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in northwest Pakistan and Kashmir killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million in October 2005.

In 1935 a massive quake killed around 30,000 people in Quetta, which at the time was part of British-ruled India.


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