October 2005 News

Kashmiris Pay Heaviest Price In Earthquake

10 October 2005
The New York Times

Muzaffarabad: Over the last half-century, two pitiless wars have been fought in their name. Their families have been split. They have roamed as refugees.Now, mercilessly enough, three days since the earth rumbled under the disputed frontier, it is Kashmiris who are paying the heaviest price. Here in hardest-hit Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, teams from the world over sought survivors under the rubble on Monday, and the first signs of aid arrived. But it was the dead who began to make their presence felt most powerfully. To walk along the city's completely destroyed commercial thoroughfare, people found it necessary to cover their noses. The death toll on Monday was no more precise than it was the day before, hovering somewhere around 20,000 in Pakistan, a vast majority believed to be in and around Muzaffarabad. Across the Line of Control in the Indian sector of Kashmir, the death toll climbed sharply in the last day to more than 900, according to the state-run Press Trust of India. The Associated Press reported that the Indian authorities had air-dropped food and burial shrouds over remote villages in Indian-controlled Kashmir. In the cross-border misery came a sliver of a political breakthrough. Pakistan on Monday accepted an offer of Indian aid for quake survivors. About 25 tons of tents, blankets, plastic sheets, food and medicines would be donated, the Indian foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, announced in New Delhi. Helicopters, which India had also offered, would not. Asked about teaming up with Pakistan on relief duty, Mr. Saran said, 'I do not see any indication yet that there could be joint operations.' Aid began trickling into Muzaffarabad on Monday, as the roads leading into the city, blocked by landslides, opened up for the first full day and Pakistani Army convoys brought in tents, blankets, rice, and powdered milk. That it was so little, and so desperately required, was evident in the melees that broke out every time an army truck approached. Grown men clambered onto military trucks, only to be tossed out on occasion along with bags of food. Brawls broke out in the street. Those who had survived Saturday's jolts were barely hanging on now. This would be the third night most of them would camp out on the bare ground, under an open sky full of mid-October rain. Frustrated, famished survivors, some dazed, some red with anger, said they had no water, no food. Abdul Aziz was asked if he had fed his four children on Monday morning. 'Whatever I could snatch,' he replied. On this day, it was biscuits from a shopkeeper, who then came after him with a stick. On Monday evening, he rallied around a military truck at a sports field on the edge of town, where a camp of displaced families had sprung up. He caught a brown blanket tossed into the air. 'Just this blanket, nothing else,' he sullenly said of government aid. 'We have only what's on our back.' At another stadium that served as ground zero for rescue and relief operations, a group of men stood at the edges waiting, for a second day in a row, for something to shelter their families at night. 'Food is a faraway thing,' Raja Muhammad Arif said. 'We don't have tents.' Qari Muhammad Ashraf wondered how long everyone could stand the waiting. He had been given no information about when relief would come, he said, nor was he ready to give up and go back to his family. 'They are without a roof,' he said. 'They are having a very difficult time.' The chief military spokesman for Pakistan, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, told CNN that an estimated 2.5 million people had been made homeless by the quake, which registered a magnitude of 7.6. In the town center, the ordinary remnants of ordinary life lay in twisted, incongruous piles: a sewing machine, a street lamp, a window frame, chunks of concrete. Cars, some punched right through, some missing an entire windshield, were on the road, packed tight and leaving town. The main road was chaotic. People carried on their shoulders whatever they could salvage: sacks of rice, bedding, suitcases, their dead. It was only for the living that a Turkish search and a rescue team called AKUT combed the streets on Monday. In the grim tableau, Fahri Akdemir, the English speaker on the team, ticked off reasons to be optimistic: The temperatures were not so cold that people would freeze; the buildings had not ground to a fine powder, as they do after some quakes, suffocating those stuck under the rubble. Moreover, not even 72 hours had passed since the quake: survivors could still be found. To one pile of rubble, they came with a report that someone had seen a pair of hands, still alive. The report turned out to be false. Hands, they gestured. They demanded of an interpreter: What's the Urdu word for alive?An onlooker tapped one of the Turkish rescue workers repeatedly on the shoulder. 'Dead bodies, dead bodies,' he said. But that was not their job on Monday. Someone else flagged them down in front of a three-story medical office building. Its storefront signboard had twisted and fallen, leaving only a crack through which to venture inside. 'Who heard a voice?' they asked. A man in a beige, Salwar Kameez, approached. It was his co-worker, he said, crying out from the basement. The AKUT team's search dog scurried inside. But just as quickly, he came out, without a single bark. There was no one alive inside, the team concluded. It went like this for a while longer. Down the street, the dog, and his men, descended into the rubble of a carpet shop. A woman and her two children were buried underneath, a man told them. Then, the dog barked. 'Please, no talk, no noise please,' one of the rescue workers beseeched the crowd. Traffic was blocked. The police instructed everyone to stop in their tracks and stand still. They did. But it took only two minutes for the unwelcome verdict to be delivered. The men emerged from the hole, followed by the dog. They could smell a corpse. Earlier in the day, a British rescue team had found a 14-year-old boy alive under the rubble of a hotel in Muzaffarabad. The BBC reported that six children had been rescued from a collapsed school in Balakot, a leveled village in North-West Frontier Province, which was second to Kashmir in terms of damage. A woman and child were pulled out of a collapsed high-rise apartment building late Monday in the capital, Islamabad. Here in Muzaffarabad, Pakistani Army helicopters combed the valley for signs of anyone buried by the collapsing hills. Still other army helicopters, only one or two at a time, flew the most seriously wounded to hospitals - 2,500 by Monday afternoon, according to an army spokesman, Maj. Farooq Nasir. The estimate of injured stood at 43,000, the interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, told Bloomberg News, and was expected to rise, he said, 'as we reach out to the inaccessible areas and get more information.' A United States transport plane loaded with blankets, plastic sheets and jerry cans arrived Monday, as part of $50 million worth of earthquake aid for Pakistan authorized by the White House. American military helicopters are also scheduled to begin relief operations on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each announced $100 million aid packages, according to Agence France- Presse. Over the last two days, aid missions have flown in from Britain, China, South Korea, Turkey, Spain, Iran, Russia, the Netherlands, Japan and Germany. Fifty German troops have been sent from NATO's 10,000-member peacekeeping force in neighboring Afghanistan, as the alliance met in Brussels to discuss more aid.

 

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