- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — Heavy rain and hail grounded helicopters and stopped trucks loaded with relief supplies yesterday, imposing more misery on hungry, shivering earthquake survivors as the United Nations warned of potentially lethal outbreaks of measles, cholera and diarrhea.

Dazed, desperate villagers fought over food packages and looted trucks as the first aid reached this devastated city in the mountains of Kashmir. The Himalayan region was hit hardest Saturday by the magnitude 7.6 quake.

Officials said the death toll from Pakistan’s worst quake had surpassed 35,000, with many bodies still buried beneath piles of concrete, steel and wood. Millions were left homeless after whole communities were flattened in the region touching Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

Three days after the quake, survivors still were being pulled from the rubble of pancaked schools and houses by British, German, French and Chinese rescue teams.

A 75-year-old woman and her 57-year-old daughter were rescued after 80 hours in the ruins of an Islamabad apartment tower, and a teenage boy was freed in the northern town of Balakot.

The U.N. World Food Program began a major airlift of emergency supplies, including high-energy bars to feed 240,000 people.

NATO agreed to coordinate an airlift of aid supplies from Europe. Eight U.S. military helicopters based in neighboring Afghanistan shuttled 16 tons of food, water, medical supplies and blankets to quake-hit zones, the military said.

Chinook and Black Hawk choppers flew 102 relief workers and others into the region and evacuated 126 persons, said Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, spokesman for the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said 25 to 30 more military helicopters would be in Pakistan within days. The Islamabad government also requested earthmovers, forklifts, bulldozers and trucks, spokesman Larry Di Rita said.

The United Nations appealed for $272 million in donations, saying 2 million people were homeless. The United States pledged $50 million, Japan $20 million, Canada $17 million and Britain $3.5 million.

Yesterday’s efforts were hampered by torrential rains and hail in the mountains of the Pakistani side of Kashmir, and crates of supplies sat on tarmacs waiting to be delivered. At least one U.S. supply helicopter had to turn around because of a rainstorm in the mountain passes, the military said.

The Pakistani government’s official death toll was about 23,000, but a senior army official involved in the rescue operations said that “according to our assessment, the death toll is between 35,000 to 40,000 people.”

Neighboring India said 1,300 people died in its part of Kashmir.

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