Quake Death Toll Over 33,000; Rains Hamper Rescue Efforts

October 11, 2005

Pakistani officials have now said that at least 33,000 persons almost certainly perished in the earthquake that struck the northwestern part of the country on Saturday, Oct. 8 (See previious articles). Little hope remains of finding further survivors, and the number of dead is certain to rise.

Rescue efforts have been slow to get under way. Heavy equipment is still in short supply, and many remote towns and villages are still inaccessible, except by air or on foot. Heavy rains and increasingly colder weather are compounding the problems faced by rescue teams and the survivors. Authorities fear the rains may trigger landslides in the region’s still unsettled hills and mountains. Helicopters have been grounded during the storms, further delaying the delivery of emergency supplies. After four days many areas have yet to receive any aid. The survivors are growing increasingly desperate and angry.

The enormous cost in human lives is made even more poignant, as many of the dead were children, crushed when their schools collapsed. While the local people cheered a French rescue team in Balakot that managed to bring out a girl and four boys from the rubble of their school, as many as 100 more children are still believed to remain buried beneath tons of debris in that school alone.

On the other side of the border in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, authorities said at least 1,300 people are now known to have died, but the number is likely to rise. Rescue teams have yet to reach many mountain villages.

The ultimate toll of the dead may never be known, but the region desperately needs help and assistance from the rest of the world. The U.S. has sent several giant Chinook helicopters from Afghanistan to help with rescue efforts. Many other countries have also sent rescue teams, but the bulk of the work is being done by local people with little or no heavy eqipment.

There is, however, a ray of hope amidst all the carnage. Both India and Pakistan have laid aside their ancient quarrels for the moment in shared grief. An editorial comment in the Indian newspaper The Hindu [as reported by the BBC] expressed it as follows: “The terrible tragedy may have taken place in disputed territory but it has united the two parties in a common grief. The earthquake has damaged the bridge connecting the two parts of Kashmir that symbolizes the thaw in their ties. It will be repaired shortly, but the tragedy has offered New Delhi and Islamabad a greater opportunity: that of establishing an emotional bridge between the two countries.”

Hopefully they will build that bridge, but the cost has been tragically high.

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