Pakistan-Afghanistan quake

Body count rises as rescue teams fan out

Residents surveying their damaged homes yesterday in Lower Dir, Pakistan, a day after the massive quake.
Residents surveying their damaged homes yesterday in Lower Dir, Pakistan, a day after the massive quake.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Rescuers work their way to remote areas cut off by Monday's quake as militants pledge aid

ISLAMABAD • Rescuers yesterday were picking their way through rugged terrain and pockets of Taleban insurgency in the search for survivors after a massive quake hit Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing more than 350 people.

The militants yesterday urged charity organisations not to hold back in delivering aid, and vowed their fighters would provide "complete help" in the affected areas.

The toll was expected to rise as search teams reach remote areas that were cut off by Monday's powerful 7.5 magnitude quake, which triggered landslides and stampedes as it toppled buildings and severed communication lines.

A police official in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar said they had not been able to get in touch with the authorities in Kohistan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to see how its population of nearly half a million people had fared. "There is no way to communicate with the officials in Kohistan, the communication system has been disrupted and roads blocked so we cannot say anything about the damage there," the official said.

TOP PRIORITY

I ran towards my children's school leaving everything behind - I did not even close the doors of my house and did not care for anything on the road.

MS SHEHNAZ RASHEED, a Muzaffarabad resident whose daughter was killed in the 2005 quake. She was frantic to reach her two sons when Monday's quake struck.

The authorities were also still struggling to ascertain the damage in the northern district of Chitral, where a local official said the quake had damaged the water supply system. "Around 80,000 people don't have access to clean drinking water and it's our top priority to restore the water supply," he said.

In other remote areas, residents - including children and the elderly - were helping with relief work, many of them digging through rubble for survivors.

The bulk of the casualties recorded so far were in Pakistan, where 241 people were killed, including 196 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and more than 1,600 injured, disaster management authorities said.

Pakistani army helicopters were evacuating victims yesterday to the provincial capital Peshawar and Rawalpindi, which borders Islamabad. The military has also sent medical teams, tents and rations to affected areas.

For many, Monday's quake brought back traumatic memories of a 7.6 magnitude quake that struck in October 2005, killing more than 75,000 people and displacing some 3.5 million.

Muzaffarabad resident Shehnaz Rasheed, 34, whose daughter was killed in the 2005 disaster, said that as the quake struck she feared "doomsday was being repeated".

"I ran towards my children's school leaving everything behind - I did not even close the doors of my house and did not care for anything on the road," she said, explaining she was frantic to reach her two sons so she could "die together with them if we have to die".

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan yesterday after a visit to the United States and said the government would announce a disaster relief package.

State media later reported that he had flown to Shangla in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - believed to be one of the worst-hit districts with 49 reported dead so far - where he promised survivors "ample compensation so that they can rebuild better homes".

Afghan officials said that at least 115 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country's 34 provinces, and some 7,000 homes reported damaged.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Body count rises as rescue teams fan out Pakistan-Afghanistan quake'. Print Edition | Subscribe