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Monday, October 10, 2005

Pakistan Appeals for Help as Rescuers Dig by Hand - New York Times

Pakistan Appeals for Help as Rescuers Dig by Hand - New York TimesOctober 10, 2005
Pakistan Appeals for Help as Rescuers Dig by Hand

GARHI HABIBULLAH, Pakistan, Oct. 9 - Twenty-four hours after the most powerful earthquake in the history of independent Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf made an urgent televised appeal on Sunday for international aid, at least 140 aftershocks rattled survivors, and rescue crews dug, often with their bare hands, for signs of the living and the dead in the rain-soaked rubble of obliterated villages.

From throughout Pakistan, a variety of estimates on the death toll poured in. By evening, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said 19,369 people had died and at least 43,000 had been injured, based on estimates from local officials. But with much of the country still unseen by the authorities, it was impossible to settle on a definitive figure. "There are clearly several areas which are inaccessible," Mr. Aziz said. "Gradually, in a day or two, we will reach them."

At least 600 people were reported killed by the quake in neighboring India, and the United Nations said 2.5 million people in the entire stricken region needed shelter.

In Washington, President Bush, whose administration was criticized over its early handling of relief for victims of the Asia-Pacific tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, promised immediate help to General Musharraf, an important ally in the American-led war on terrorism. "Thousands of people have died, thousands are wounded, and the United States of America wants to help," Mr. Bush said.

In these forested hills close to the epicenter, the quake obliterated more than this village. It also took a cornerstone of hope: The Garhi Habibullah Girls High School.

In the delirious collective grief on Sunday morning, there was no way to tell how many girls had been studying here, though it was safe to say that hundreds had been, not just from Garhi Habibullah, in the North-West Frontier Province, but from villages as far as 10 miles away, for whom this was the nearest high school for girls.

At least 20 women were teaching here - among the most educated women in the area. The dozen men digging through the rubble of the two-story school were asked how many teachers had survived. They could come up with only one name. Saturday was a school day.

The men were scooping out what they could with little more than their hands. A few brought picks and shovels. One man carried a car jack, to try to help lift concrete slabs. Another peered under a pile and saw a woman's bloodied head scarf, but could do nothing to extricate the woman. By the end of the morning, the body of a longtime teacher, named Ruksana, was pulled out, preceded by her dainty green handbag. After that, the digging crew gave up. There was nothing more it could do. When would the government send machines, the men demanded to know. When would food and tents come? The village was gone, and nearly everyone had spent the night in the rain. Anger boiled up from anguish. "This village has not received any sort of help," cried Mohammed Younas, 65. "We have nothing at present with us. Only our people are trying to dig out the children who are buried and are probably dead - probably dead."

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, General Musharraf said Pakistan desperately needed cargo helicopters to reach the most remote areas of Pakistan, medicine, and tents and blankets for the displaced. He confirmed that much of the country had not been reached.

He also confirmed that Pakistan's neighbor and historical rival, India, had offered assistance, as had a host of other countries. General Musharraf said the details of India's offer would have to be ironed out. "You do understand there's a little bit of a sensitivity there," he said.

The United States Embassy in Islamabad confirmed that eight American military helicopters were due in Pakistan on Monday to help with relief efforts.

Other countries around the world sent condolences and prayers, as well as money - or pledges of money - and, more immediately, search teams with dogs, medical workers and equipment, and food and water. Supplies began flowing from fellow Muslim nations, especially those like the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistanis make up much of the work force. Some countries rapidly granted Pakistanis emergency visas; in Britain, which has a large Pakistani population, a special visa desk was set up at Heathrow Airport. Prime Minister Tony Blair called the devastation "appalling."

The European Commission pledged more than $4 million in emergency aid, and said the figure could grow, as individual member nations added their own more modest offers. China, a relative newcomer as a provider of emergency aid, offered $6.2 million and sent seismologists, medical workers, search dogs and supplies.

The World Bank said it was ready to provide $20 million. Turkey, which has had major earthquakes, said it had sent two military planes carrying aid, doctors and rescue workers. Russia sent rescue workers, dogs and tents. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan - a nation still recovering from decades of war, and reliant on international aid - promised helicopters and medical teams. The quake, centered on the disputed province of Kashmir, was the strongest in the area in a century and the worst natural disaster to befall Pakistan since its formation in 1947. It had a magnitude of 7.6, according to the United States Geological Survey, and sent tremors across South Asia. At least 140 aftershocks have been recorded, several of them with a magnitude exceeding 5, Pakistan's state-run media reported.

Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, remained inaccessible by road until Sunday evening. With the city hospital destroyed by the quake, a cricket stadium had been turned into a triage center from where the injured were airlifted to other hospitals by the Pakistani military. One man, Mohsin Naqvi, 32, who had reached Islamabad late Sunday, said the government rescue was inadequate. "There is no proper rescue, no organization," he said angrily. "The whole city has collapsed. There is nothing. We have been walking around dead bodies everywhere."

Tariq Farooq, minister for communications for the Pakistani side of Kashmir, said the jail and the local government office had been destroyed. The dead were being collected at the university grounds. With very few tents available, the living and the dead were left to the elements.

Across the Line of Control, on the Indian side of Kashmir, the death toll had tripled from the estimates given Saturday, climbing to 600 by Sunday evening, said Vijay Bakaya, the chief secretary of the province. In some places, angry crowds complained about what they called the local government's delayed start in rescue operations. "We are still in the process of assessing the actual damage, but the reports available with us till Sunday afternoon spoke of widespread death and devastation," Mr. Bakaya said.

At Uri, the town closest to the Line of Control, some survivors said the dead and injured remained in the hills, still out of reach of rescue crews. "There are no shrouds to bury them in or medicines to treat the injured," one survivor told reporters.

Here in Garhi Habibullah, the village hospital was no more than a horrible heap of tin and concrete. No one seemed to know how many had perished inside, only that a dental technician had been plucked out. The dead also remained inside the high school for boys, but without machinery, it was impossible to retrieve more bodies. The Pakistani military brought in a dump truck at midday.

No one, it seemed, had time to mourn here. The men of the village, if they were not digging through the rubble, were digging graves or carrying bodies in their arms or whispering prayers for the dead. No one could say with certainty how many bodies had been buried. One man guessed at least 150; another said 400.

A 4-year-old boy, Hasan Raza, swaddled in white, was among them. He followed his father, Mohammed Raza, into the grave. "Make room, make room," the gravediggers were told. A group of men came from a jumble of destroyed houses, hoisting on their shoulders another body, wrapped in a blanket.

Soon afterward came the body of Tehniat Riaz, a seventh grade student at the Girls High School. She was found in a ground floor classroom two hours after the quake. Her sister, in another classroom, had made it out.

The body of her teacher, Saima Irum, 30, was laid in the ground only minutes earlier. The teacher's body, too, had been found a couple of hours after the quake. Relatives said her face had been crushed.

Standing before her fresh grave, her uncle, Azmat Shaheen, said that like virtually all of the educated women in the village, his niece had chosen to teach at the Garhi Habibullah Girls High School. She had taught there for a decade. She was about to marry next month. "She devoted her life for the sake of education," Mr. Shaheen said.

The provincial police said 150 bodies had been retrieved from the schools in Garhi Habibullah, and 250 people were estimated to be still missing.

Along the picturesque winding road leading down from Garhi Habibullah came taxis, pickup trucks and minivans converted into makeshift ambulances. One woman's broken leg was bandaged using a small kitchen grill for a splint.

Convoys of the wounded rolled in to Ayub Memorial Hospital in Abbotabad, a 90-minute drive south from the hills. But it, too, was in precarious straits. Tremors forced medical staff to evacuate patients onto the lawn and parking lot. Rain and hail Saturday night forced them back inside, only to spill outside once more when the next tremors came. On Sunday afternoon, the hospital's various wards were set up under flimsy cloth canopies: one for gynecology, another for psychiatric patients, another for emergency surgery.

The wounded came in with fractured legs, broken backs and head injuries. Beds were filling up. The hospital would soon need more anesthesiologists, orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons specializing in spinal and head injuries. Doctors predicted that in a few days, when wounds were likely to become infected, antibiotics would be in short supply.

Dr. Fara Shah, an ophthalmologist working a shift in the triage tent, said, "Life and death is in your hands. Mostly it's death in your hands."

Mohammed Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar for this article, Salman Masood from Islamabad and Yusuf Jameel from Srinagar.

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