Quake Rescue Operation Ends in Pakistan

Rescue operations wind down in Pakistan as the government raises the official death toll from the Oct. 8 quake to 38,000. Another 60,000 are listed as injured. The focus now is getting aid to the living, especially those in remote mountain villages, say officials. The United Nations estimates more than a million people are now homeless.

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In Pakistan today, the government raised the official death toll from last Saturday's earthquake to 38,000. Another 60,000 people are believed to be injured. Many of the wounded are in remote villages in Kashmir in the northwest frontier province and they have yet to be reached. United Nations estimates that more than a million people are now homeless in the foothills of the Himalayas. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Islamabad.


Major General Shaukat Sultan said the higher death toll reflects new information coming in from remote mountain areas, areas helicopters and aid convoys are only now beginning to reach. A week in rescue operations are winding down and the focus now, the general says, is to provide for the living in a place where temperatures in some affected areas have already fallen below freezing at night.

Major General SHAUKAT SULTAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: Speaking on Pakistan's GOTV, Sultan said the priorities now are tents, blankets and warm clothing for the survivors. Many are still sleeping in the open a week after the quake struck. Matters were further complicated when bad weather moved in early this morning forcing some relief helicopters to turn back and wait out the weather at the international airport in Islamabad.

(Soundbite of a helicopter)

SULLIVAN: By midafternoon, some flights had resumed and throughout the day, more relief supplies poured in aboard aircraft from more than a dozen countries. Eleven US helicopters helped ferry supplies into the affected areas and carried casualties out despite the bad weather. Lieutenant Colonel Wiley Thompson of the US Army's 12th Aviation Brigade.

Lieutenant Colonel WILEY THOMPSON (US Army's 12th Aviation Brigade): You can't do anything about the weather, but every day, we will get more and more help to these people. We are now going to smaller and smaller areas, breaking up our aircraft in teams. So we're starting to try to get out and put smaller pieces of aid, kind of pepper the countryside and, we're trying to work our way north.

SULLIVAN: Despite these efforts, Thompson concedes not all those who need aid will get it in the next few days or even the next week.

There is growing anger in Pakistan over the government's slow response to the quake, but the United Nations' chief emergency relief official says Pakistan's government is doing what it can. Jan Egeland calls this earthquake a humanitarian worst-case scenario. `An earthquake is bad anywhere,' he said, `but in the Himalayas, it becomes much worse.' Egeland said more helicopters are needed, triple the number available now, in order to save the lives of many survivors still cut off from help. The US, which has provided the largest number of helicopters so far, says it will send at least a dozen more. Pakistan's neighbor and archrival India has also offered to send helicopters in addition to the relief supplies it began sending on Tuesday. Pakistan has thanked India for those supplies. It has declined the offer of Indian helicopters for now. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Islamabad.

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And the time on WEEKEND EDITION, 18 minutes past the hour.

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