- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — The official death toll in Pakistan’s devastating earthquake rose to nearly 40,000 yesterday, while rain, snow and low temperatures compounded the misery of millions of homeless victims.

Heavy rain soaked many quake-hit towns and snow fell in the surrounding mountains, disrupting efforts to help an estimated 2 million people lacking shelter ahead of the harsh Himalayan winter. Downpours earlier in the week stopped air and road deliveries of supplies.

Helicopter flights to ferry in aid and carry out the injured were halted for about 90 minutes yesterday morning. When flights resumed, bad conditions kept aircraft from reaching the town of Balakot, leaving hundreds of injured, cold and terrified people waiting by the helipad, hoping for the weather to clear.

In desperately short supply were the things needed most: tents.

“We have begged for tents from relief workers but they say there are no more,” said Rehamatullah, a 70-year-old man who hiked to Balakot from a nearby village looking for supplies. “We’re very worried as our families are staying in the open.”

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said the death toll from the Oct. 8 quake had risen to 38,000, with 62,000 others injured. An additional 1,350 persons died in neighboring India.

The official toll, which previously stood at 25,000, rose sharply as more bodies were pulled from the rubble in recent days, army officials said.

Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said the grim toll was likely to get worse as recovery teams reached more communities, some still virtually untouched since the quake. “I think it will keep rising when we go into the valleys,” he said.

“The main thing we need is tents,” Gen. Musharraf said. “We are asking everyone to give us tents.”

The country’s relief commissioner, Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmad Khan, said 200,000 houses had been destroyed and the government expects to get 2 million blankets and 100,000 large tents before the onset of winter.

Gen. Musharraf also said he was naming a committee, to be headed by the army’s top engineer, to decide how devastated areas could be rebuilt and whether villages would be rebuilt in the same locations or moved elsewhere.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said later that rebuilding would cost “close to $5 billion.”

U.N. officials have estimated reconstruction could take 10 years, but “we think it would be faster,” Mr. Aziz said at a press conference.

At 8:51 a.m., thousands of Muslims gathered at Islamabad’s towering Faisal mosque for special prayers for the dead — exactly a week after the temblor.

Prayer leader Qari Nauman Ahmad urged people to donate what they could to quake victims and seek God’s forgiveness, saying continuing aftershocks were a sign that God was not happy.

Rescue workers abandoned the official search Friday for survivors trapped in the rubble, though individual efforts continued, with an 18-month-old girl reportedly pulled out alive from the ruins of her home in the town of Balimang, in North West Frontier Province.

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