Musharraf gives thanks for quake aid12/10/2005 - 18:05:21
Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf today thanked the international community for sending aid to victims of the devastating earthquake that left tens of thousands dead.
In a nationally televised speech, Musharraf expressed gratitude for supplies and financial assistance that are pouring into Pakistan as it struggles to assist millions of people left homeless and hungry by the 7.6-magnitude quake on Saturday.
“We have been given a lot of donations,” Musharraf said. About 30 countries have pledged assistance, and Musharraf mentioned many of them, including Turkey, Britain, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, France, Japan and the US. He also thanked India, which sent aid despite a long-time rivalry.
“The Indian prime minister was very kind to ring me up and offer all possible assistance,” Musharraf said.
He said there was an urgent need for helicopters to ferry supplies because many roads had been blocked by landslides induced by the quake.
In the quake zone rescue efforts gave way to recovery, as hopes faded of finding more survivors.
Still, miracles continued amid the misery, with a Russian team rescuing a five-year-old girl trapped for nearly 100 hours in the rubble.
Trucks and helicopters with aid from dozens of countries choked the roads up to the crumbling towns of Kashmir, but the hungry and the homeless in many hard-hit areas were still in desperate straits four days after the quake struck.
The 7.6-magnitude quake on Saturday demolished whole towns, mostly in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The death toll was believed to be more than 35,000, and tens of thousands more were injured. Helicopter pilots ferried as many wounded as they could to hospitals.
“The problem we are seeing right now is that there’s so many injured Pakistanis, we just can’t take back everyone. We are limited for space,” US military spokesman Colonel James Yonts said at a base near Islamabad.
US, Pakistani, German and Afghan helicopters delivered tents, blankets and medical equipment, and brought back dozens of badly injured people on each return flight. The choppers flew in clear skies after stormy weather forced the suspension of flights on the previous day.
At a landing zone in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan’s portion of divided Kashmir, doctors selected the most severely injured for evacuation and held back those with less serious wounds.
On a regional tour, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Islamabad, where Pakistani leaders appealed for tents, water, blankets and clearing equipment from the US.
“We will be with you in your hour of need. We will be with you not just today but also tomorrow,” she said at a news conference with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Aiz said small aircraft were able to land at the airport in Muzaffarabad, but C-130 transport planes were still only able to airdrop equipment and supplies.
The United Nations estimated some 4 million people were affected, including 2 million who lost homes, and warned that measles and other diseases could break out. Some 50,000 Pakistani troops joined the relief effort.
In addition to the helicopters, Washington has pledged $50m (€41.5m) in relief aid to Pakistan, a key ally in its fight against terror.
Residents in Muzaffarabad were desperate, mobbing trucks with food and water and grabbing whatever they could. The weak were pushed aside.
Almost exactly four days after the quake, rescuers pulled the girl, Zarabe Shah, from the rubble.
“I want to drink,” she whispered after rescuers plucked her from under what remained of the stairwell of her home in this shattered city.
Her cropped hair was caked in dust. A day earlier, her neighbours had recovered the bodies of her father and two of her sisters, but her mother and another two sisters survived.
Her uncle, Akmal Shah, held her tight as she described in a soft voice how she fell from the stairs when the quake struck. The stairwell shielded her from the debris above, and she survived without serious injury.
At a camp for the homeless, an old man with a plastic bottle gave Zarabe tiny sips of water out of its cap, but she wasn’t satisfied and wanted more.
Some roads to the badly hit town of Bagh, southeast of Muzaffarabad, remained blocked because of quake-induced landslides. Dozens of bodies lay on the roadsides in the town, and residents said they were desperate for heavy machinery to help them remove debris in hopes of finding survivors.
“We need food, we need water, we need medicine,” said Abdul Qayyum, a schoolteacher who stood near the rubble of his school.
Jan Vandemoortele, UN Resident Co-ordinator for Pakistan, said key roads into the quake zone that were blocked earlier have now been opened up.
“Relief material is moving in,” Vandemoortele said in Islamabad. “It is getting there. Roads are open now. They were blocked until very recently. We have several trucks that are all loaded and on the road now.”
About 30 countries have sent relief equipment, doctors, paramedics, tents, blankets, medicine, disaster relief teams. Many have pledged financial assistance, and Japan’s Defence Ministry said today it would send about 290 troops and three helicopters.
A transport plane bringing tents, medicine and other supplies from rival India arrived in Pakistan.
However, the Indian effort was not without a glitch, as the plane from New Delhi was forced to turn around within 10 minutes of take-off because Pakistan said there was no room to land at the airport near Islamabad. The plane later landed with 25 tonnes of supplies.
More than 1,400 people have died in India’s part of Kashmir.
The World Bank said it would double its initial commitment of financial aid to Pakistan to $40m (€33m), and said the amount could run to hundreds of millions of dollars in the long term.
Rescue workers fanned out by helicopter to remote regions of Kashmir. Among them were eight teams from British International Rescue Corps, which found 16 survivors since arriving in the quake zone nearly three days ago.
“As time goes on, hope will get less and less. But you always do get miracles,” said Ray Gray. “Even if we just find one person, the whole effort is worth it.”
Vandemoortele said there have been no reports of epidemics yet but that the area’s health infrastructure has collapsed. He said three field hospitals had already been set up in Muzaffarabad and Bagh in Kashmir, and another in the northern town of Mansehra. Three more would be ready soon, he said.
In one clinic alone, 2,000 patients have been treated, 400 of them children, most of them suffering from broken arms or legs.
The quake has damaged sanitation systems, destroyed hospitals and left many victims without access to clean drinking water, making them more vulnerable to disease.
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