Rescuers try to reach Asia quake survivors - East Valley Tribune: News

Rescuers try to reach Asia quake survivors

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Posted: Saturday, October 8, 2005 2:14 pm | Updated: 8:53 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan - Rescuers struggled to reach remote, mountainous areas Sunday after Pakistan's worst-ever earthquake wiped out entire villages, buried roads in rubble and knocked out electricity and water supplies.

The death toll stood at 20,000 and was expected to rise.

In this devastated Himalayan city, wounded covered by shawls lay in the street, and villagers used sledgehammers to break through the rubble of flattened schools and homes seeking survivors.

The quake collapsed the city's Islamabad Public School. Soldiers with white cloth tied around their mouths and noses pulled a small girl's dust-covered body from the ruins, while the body of a boy remained pinned between heavy slabs of concrete.

The United Nations said more than 2.5 million people need shelter after the magnitude-7.6 earthquake along the Pakistan-India border. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Relief said it urgently needed 200,000 winterized tents.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf complained of a shortage of helicopters needed to ferry in relief workers, food and medical supplies, and appealed for international help.

In Washington, President Bush said eight U.S. military choppers were being moved to help in rescue efforts, and he promised financial assistance. India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan, also offered assistance, as did Israel, which has no relations with the Muslim nation.

"We are handling the worst disaster in Pakistan's history," chief army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.

The quake was felt across a wide swath of South Asia from central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh. It swayed buildings in the capitals of three nations, with the damage spanning at least 250 miles from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in northern Indian territory. In Islamabad, a 10-story building collapsed, killing at least 24 people.

Late Sunday, helmeted rescuers found a survivor after hearing his cries for help. The thin man in a blue shirt, looking dazed, emerged on his own with little help and stood in front of a crowd of cheering onlookers. One rescuer patted his head, and the man waved and pumped his fist in the air.

Pakistan said the death toll ranged between 20,000 and 30,000. India reported more than 600 dead, and Afghanistan said four were killed.

"We have enough manpower but we need financial support ... to cope with the tragedy," Musharraf said in Rawalpindi, according to the state-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan.

He also appealed for medicine and tents.

Musharraf told the British Broadcasting Corp. he knew of as many as 20,000 people killed, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told CNN about 43,000 people were injured.

Musharraf said the only way to reach many far-flung areas was by helicopter because roads were impassable.

"Our helicopter resources are limited," he told the BBC. "We need massive cargo helicopter support."

Most of the devastation occurred in northern Pakistan. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 60 miles northeast of the capital, Islamabad, in the forested mountains of Pakistani Kashmir.

"I have been informed by my department that more than 30,000 people have died in Kashmir," Tariq Mahmmod, communications minister for the Himalayan region, told The Associated Press.

Troops "have not started relief work in remote villages where people are still buried in the rubble, and in some areas nobody is present to organize funerals for the dead," he said.

The USGS said there had been at least 26 aftershocks, including a 6.2-magnitude temblor.

Dozens of villages were cut off from rescuers by quake-induced landslides. Relatives desperate to find their loved ones dug through flattened homes and schools with bare hands.

In Muzaffarabad, a city of 600,000 that is the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, residents said they faced food and gasoline shortages. There was no electricity, and people collected water from a mountain stream.

"People are relying on local fruit, and they have little food to eat. I went out to get bread, and could only get a couple of apples," carpet seller Gul Khan said.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said 11,000 people in Muzaffarabad were killed.

At least 250 pupils were feared trapped at the Islamabad Public School, and dozens of villagers, some with sledgehammers, pulled at debris and carried away bodies. Several bright backpacks dotted the rubble. Nearby, a man cried over a child's body.

"The communication infrastructure and systems are down and we can't get help to us, that should be the priority," principal Mushtaq Ahmed Kahn said.

Hundreds of people waited at bus stations, hoping to leave. The body of a man lay on a roadside, and a family pushed a body in a cart.

The military hospital collapsed, and residents said there were bodies inside. Doctors set up a makeshift clinic in a park.

"The situation is very bad. Surgeries are being conducted on soccer fields. There are not enough doctors," Ozgur Bozoglu, a member of a Turkish search-and-rescue team, GEA, told Turkey's NTV television.

Helicopters and C-130 transport planes took troops and supplies to damaged areas Sunday. When confronted by urgent appeals from villagers, Musharraf responded, "For heaven's sake, bear with us."

Bush said he spoke with Musharraf and "told him that we want to help in any way we can."

"Thousands of people have died, thousands are wounded, and the United States of America wants to help," Bush said from the Oval Office.

Aziz said the American helicopters would be drawn from coalition military operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

But Maj. Andrew Elmes, spokesman for NATO's 11,000-strong force, said it was outside the mission's mandate to operate beyond Afghanistan.

The United Nations, Britain, Russia, China, Turkey, Japan and Germany offered assistance. An eight-member U.N. team of top disaster coordination officials arrived in Islamabad on Sunday.

Aziz said the Pakistani death toll was 19,396 dead, and it was expected to rise.

Officials said Balakot, in the North West Frontier Province about 60 miles north of Islamabad, was one of the hardest-hit areas. Near the ruins of one collapsed school, at least a dozen bodies lay in the streets. More than 200 pupils were feared trapped inside the rubble of a four-story school.

Dozens of villagers pulled at the debris and carried away bodies. Faizan Farooq, a 19-year-old student, said he had heard children under the rubble crying for help immediately after Saturday's disaster.

"Now there's no sign of life," he said Sunday. "We can't do this without the army's help. Nobody has come here to help us."

There was no sign of government help in Balakot. The quake leveled the town's main bazaar, crushing shoppers and strewing gas cylinders, bricks, tomatoes and onions on the streets.

Residents carried bodies on wooden planks. The corpses of four children, aged between 4 and 6, lay under a sheet of corrugated iron.

On the Indian side of the border, at least 54 soldiers were killed when their bunkers collapsed, said Col. H. Juneja, an Indian army spokesman.

The death toll in India exceeded 650 Sunday. Most of the deaths were in the Jammu-Kashmir border towns of Uri, Tangdar and Punch and Srinagar.

Hundreds of angry villagers blocked area roads, protesting the slow pace of rescue efforts. Locals demanded that journalists and soldiers with aid go to their mountainside villages.

"Everything is destroyed - the ground shook and took everything down," Syad Hassan said.

Most people in Jammu-Kashmir spent the cold night in the open, lighting fires with wood from fallen houses to keep warm.

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