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Quake victims loot supplies; Pak toll 40,000

By K J M Varma in Islamabad
Last updated on: October 10, 2005 23:59 IST
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Aid from across the world Monday poured in to Pakistan, which buried the dead and rushed the injured to hospitals as hungry survivors looted food from army convoys and shops, two days after the devastating earthquake that killed at least 40,000 and injured over 42,000.

After intense efforts, Pakistan army cleared key roads leading to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, specially its devastated capital Muzafarabad and other towns as also to North-West Frontier Province for the first time since the 7.6 temblor of Saturday, to rush relief supplies.

Before this, relief work in these areas hit by landslides had to be done through an airbridge involving over 25 helicopters.

Following calls by President Pervez Musharraf, United States President George W Bush rushed eight Chinook cargo choppers, which arrived in Islamabad to reinforce the airbridge and are expected to begin operations Monday night.

The helicopters can lift around 80 people as also the concrete boulders to clear the rubble.

Four more US helicopters from Afghanistan were expected to arrive shortly, officials said. After clearance of the roads, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid appealed to Pakistanis to rush to Muzaffarabad and other areas of POK and NWFP to help people to clear the rubble, remove the dead and save those who were stuck beneath the debris of thousands of destroyed homes and buildings.

Reports reaching Islamabad earlier said that hungry and desperate people looted army trucks, which moved in carrying food, tents, blankets and medicines after a road was opened in Muzaffarabad.

The survivors, who have been without food and water for three days, also clashed with shopkeepers while trying to break open shops.

They also targeted petrol pumps and deserted homes in search of food.

The Pakistani cabinet headed by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, which held its second meeting in as many days to take stock of the dead and injured, announced that the official death toll so far was 20,745 with over 42,000 injured. But the UN officials involved in relief activities and officials of the PoK administration have put the toll over 40,000 with over 30,000 dead in POK alone.

Pakistan army said it lost 300 soldiers in the quake and 500 others injured.

Musharraf, who revitalised the shocked administration with constant helicopter hops and tours to hospitals, said the scale of the damage was such that Pakistan government was trying to acquire satellite imagery and photographs to identify the damage caused in the remote areas of POK and NWFP where towns and villages have been flattened.

Reporters of local TV networks who managed to reach the affected areas aired complaints from people from various places who said no help has reached them to remove the dead and injured from the rubble and rush to hospitals.

The aftershocks have ceased in most of areas though Muzafarabad experienced one heavy tremor in the afternoon.

The Pakistan Foreign Office stepped up its drive for mobilisation of international assistance by holding a special briefing for Islamabad based foreign diplomats for which the Indian High Commissioner Shivshankar Menon too was invited.

The thrust of the briefing was to appeal for aid to provide housing for over a million displaced persons, officials said.

Dozens of chartered flights from all over the world landed in Pakistani airports bringing relief and rescue teams for the victims. 

US increased its aid amount from $ 9 lakh to $ 50 million. Help arrived from UK, Spain, France, Japan, Russia, UAE and Iran.

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson said Islamabad was overwhelmed by the response. 

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K J M Varma in Islamabad
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