Today's Paper

Pakistan quake death toll touches 20,000

43,000 people injured, still no access to three districts in Pakistan occupied Kashmir

B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: On the basis of preliminary estimates, Pakistan announced on Sunday that 20,000 people were killed and 42,397 injured in the earthquake that struck on Saturday.

The final toll may be much higher. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told a news conference here after an emergency Cabinet meeting that the Government still had no access to three of the four worst-hit districts in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

PoK Communications Minister Tariq Farooq told the local media that the death toll in PoK alone could reach 30,000 as the focus so far had been only on the main towns, not the mountain villages.

Aftershocks continue

The aftershocks, which continued through the second day, only added to the woes of people stranded in the affected areas. In the capital city, every time a tremor was felt people ran out into the streets. Most people preferred to spend the night in the open.

Mr. Sherpao said 70 per cent of the houses in the three worst affected districts in PoK, including the capital city of Muzaffarabad, were destroyed. Landslips triggered by the earthquake blocked road links to the region, cutting it off.

The Pakistan Army suffered casualties in PoK; 200 personnel were killed and 450 Army officers and personnel injured.

After PoK, the North West Frontier Province was the worst hit. Around 1,760 people have been confirmed dead and 1,797 people are believed to be injured. The Government does not have estimates of the number displaced in the province. It may run into the thousands if not a million as in at least three districts in the province, 50 to 70 per cent of the houses have been reduced to rubble.

With the arrival of a team of experts from Britain the operation to remove the debris of the 10-storied Margalla Tower in the capital was intensified in a bid to rescue people trapped under it. By Sunday evening, around 80 persons were rescued from under the debris.

After an aerial survey of the affected areas in PoK, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf asked the international community to assist the country with supplies of medicine, tents, cargo helicopters and financial assistance.

"We do seek international assistance, we have enough manpower but we need financial support so that we may utilise it in a required way to cope with the tragedy. Then there is a need for large supplies of medicines, tents and cargo helicopters to reach out to people in far-flung and cut-off areas, the bigger these copters the better," he said on the State-run Pakistan Television.

Gen. Musharraf said there were reports of extensive damage in Muzaffarabad with 50 per cent of the hilly city believed to be devastated; a number of schools and hospitals had collapsed and children were trapped inside the schools.

In the Mansehra and Balakot areas, there were massive losses.

Due to the landslips, the administration is dependent on air services to reach people in PoK. Civil aviation helicopters were pressed into service and the C-130s of the Pakistan Air Force were ready to drop food, water and emergency medicine.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told journalists after an aerial tour of the affected areas in the Frontier that a three-day mourning would be observed to express solidarity with the people who had lost their relatives in the natural disaster.

Mr. Aziz said the Cabinet decided to pay Rs. 100,000 to each of the victim's families. It would help survivors to repair infrastructure. The Cabinet will meet daily to review relief operations and Ministers had been asked to monitor and supervise work in different areas.

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