Pakistan soldiers bring aid to quake survivors

October 31, 2008 12:00 am

, ZIARAT, October 31 – Pakistani soldiers scrambled to get aid to victims of a powerful earthquake that has killed up to 300 people and left thousands of villagers homeless, officials said on Friday.

Relief goods started to reach remote villages that had received no aid in the 48 hours since the 6.4-magnitude quake struck before dawn on Wednesday in the impoverished south-western province of Baluchistan.

But harsh aftershocks kept thousands of people sleeping beneath the skies for two days under meagre blankets or scraps of fabric, raising fears that children and the elderly could be at risk from the cold.

"The milk and medicine for children are too short. The food is also not enough for longer periods," social worker Mohammad Ismail told AFP in Ziarat, the town at the epicentre of the disaster.

Children could be seen running after cars on the road adjoining the affected areas begging for food and drink, witnesses said.

The quake struck shortly before the Muslim call to prayer at dawn on Wednesday, burying dozens of mud-brick houses under landslides as their occupants slept.

Up to 15,000 people were left homeless by the disaster, officials said.

Villagers begged for help after spending a second night sleeping in the open air. Many complained that their children were becoming sick because of the near-freezing conditions.

Local authorities said that the provincial and federal governments had failed to offer sufficient help.

Military and paramilitary troops have provided over 2,000 tents and 15 tonnes of food rations, Major General Mohammed Khan said.

"We’ll provide tents to people in a couple of days but reconstruction will definitely take some time," he said.

But residents said the efforts were not enough.

"Milk and medicines for children is too short. The food is also not enough for longer periods," a social worker Mohammad Ismail said.

The US government said it was sending one million dollars in aid.

"USAID has provided an initial one million dollars in assistance to help meet the immediate needs of those affected by the earthquake," the US Agency for International Development said in a statement.

The agency said the aid would be distributed through international and non-governmental organizations.

"We are working alongside the Pakistani government and the international community to assess the damage.

 These assessments will help determine what additional assistance the US might be able to provide," it said.

In a statement, USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore said the organization "is continuing to monitor the situation and is prepared to provide additional assistance if needed."

USAID said Washington has in the past given more than two billion dollars for programs in Pakistan to improve health, education, economic growth, democratic governance and to rebuild areas hit by an October 2005 earthquake.



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