Earthquake toll may go beyond 79,000

Helicopters and foot soldiers headed out of the main city in Pakistani Kashmir at daybreak Thursday in a frantic attempt to get medical aid and supplies to remote villages damaged in an earthquake that killed more than 79,000 people.

    Aid workers say casualties can go up with winter setting in

    The death toll in South Asia's 8 October quake jumped dramatically after regional authorities reported new figures based on bodies recovered and information from outlying areas, making it one of the deadliest temblors of the past century.

    The Pakistani government's official death toll is lower, still at 47,700, but central figures have lagged behind regional numbers. Those figures, from Pakistan's northwest province and the portion of Kashmir it controls, add up to about 78,000. India has reported 1360 deaths in its part of Kashmir.

    Aid workers fear casualties will rise further, because communities without adequate food, shelter or health care will soon face the harsh Himalayan winter. Snow already has begun to fall in high mountains, and some upland villages now face subzero temperatures at night.

    UN says over half million have not
     yet received relief aid

    More and more, the flow of people who have walked out of the mountains themselves to aid stations in Pakistani Kashmir's capital, Muzaffarabad, have wounds that are badly infected, said Brigadier General Zafar Gondal, a doctor who runs the Pakistan army field hospital in the city.

    "We are doing whatever is possible," he said, adding that many have to be evacuated to large city hospitals for the care that they need. He said children in particular are in need of shelter and food as temperatures drop to near the freezing point at night in the hills.

    “One cold night is enough to put the life of a child in danger,” he said.

    Exposure, malnutrition

    International aid continued to pour in, with the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, headed to Pakistan to tour the devastated region, meet the country's leaders and hand over supplies.

    With clear skies, helicopters were able to continue their frenzied routine of flying supplies to remote areas and bringing back the wounded.

    International aid continues to pour
    in; but more is needed

    Still, the number of helicopters is limited and people like Abdul Aziz decided it was better to walk in for help than to wait any longer. The UN estimates as many as a half-million survivors have not yet received any aid.

    Aziz's wife was killed in the 7.6-magnitude temblor on 9 October when his house came crashing down. He walked seven hours to Muzaffarabad with his three sons and daughter, who had a fracture.

    All were suffering from exposure and malnutrition. He said 150 people, out of 220 in his village, had died.

    "I will not go back to that village where I lost my wife, my relatives and my friends," he said.

    No aftershocks

    In a minor reprieve, homeless villagers were spared any major nerve-racking aftershocks on Thursday like those that unleashed landslides in mountainous Kashmir the previous night.

    In addition to the helicopters, hundreds of troops were being sent out on regular supply missions, said Lt. Col. Rana Sajjad.

    "We do not claim that we have reached every affected person; but we have covered almost all areas"

    Lt. Colonel Rana Sajjad. a senior official handling relief mission

    "We do not claim that we have reached every affected person; but we have covered almost all areas," Sajjad said.

    "People are receiving first aid and we will continue this relief operation until we are able to help everyone."

    Sajjad said 80 government teams had been sent out to assess the damage caused by the quake and an exact death total is expected by 25 October.

    Toll to rise

    Citing reports from local authorities and hospital officials, the government of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province said 37,958 people had died there and that the toll was likely to rise. The prime minister in Pakistani-held Kashmir said at least 40,000 people died in that neighbouring region. India has also reported 1360 deaths in the part of Kashmir that it controls.

    However, the death toll in Pakistan is unlikely to come close to last December's magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami that killed more than 176,000 people - most of them in Indonesia - or a magnitude 8.2 temblor that killed 240,000 in Tangshan, China in 1976.

    Pakistan has said it needs 150,000-200,000 tents to house the refugees. So far it has been able to muster and dispatch 64,000 tents and 236,000 blankets to the quake area, said Federal Relief Commissioner Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmad Khan.

    Pakistan on Wednesday banned the private sale of tents, ordering the country's 40 manufacture

    rs to direct their entire output to the government, said Mushtaq Ali Cheema, minister for textiles. 



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