Pakistan's Quake Death Toll Climbs

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The official death toll from last month's earthquake in northern Pakistan keeps rising: The number was raised Wednesday to 73,000. The obstacles remain daunting in getting aid to communities that are still cut off from help.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. And I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The official death toll from last month's earthquake that devastated northern Pakistan is expected to keep rising. The number was set yesterday at 73,000, and it's still very hard to get assistance to the survivors, as NPR's Ivan Watson reports.

(Soundbite of bulldozer)

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Four weeks after the earthquake, a Pakistani soldier operates a bulldozer and tries to clear a landslide which blocked the only road leading up a steep mountain valley in the devastated province of Kashmir. The force of the earthquake triggered countless landslides, some of which swept away entire villages. The tremors also collapsed bridges and dropped whole segments of this important access road off of cliffs down into the rushing river blow. Helicopters periodically roar overhead, ferrying supplies further up the valley to the many devastated communities that are still cut off from help.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

WATSON: Major Nageb Akmed(ph) is one of the Pakistani helicopter pilots flying relief missions.

Major NAGEB AKMED: Places are only being discovered now. There are many places which are being discovered now, that this is a place which needs this kind of help.

WATSON: Pakistani engineers opened the road up to the district of Chikar just a few days ago. The earthquake demolished every house in the region, leaving hundreds of families camping in tents along mountainsides on narrow ledges at vertigo-inducing heights.

Nearly every person you meet here lost at least one relative on October 8th. That includes Mohammed Bashar(ph), whose 16-year-old daughter was buried while he was still in the hospital being treated for injuries. Now he's trying to figure out how the rest of his family will survive the winter.

Mr. MOHAMMED BASHAR: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: Bashar had running water and electricity in his house before it was destroyed by the earthquake.

(Soundbite of dish)

Unidentified Teen: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: Now his surviving daughters prepare dinner over a campfire next to the homemade tent his large family shares.

Mr. BASHAR: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: `It's very cold here in the tent at night,' Bashar says. `I can build a new house for the winter,' he adds. `If they would only give us some corrugated tin sheets, I could do it myself.'

Aid workers like Tangir Hussein(ph), a volunteer doctor from Britain, say they're seeing an increase in health problems among survivors due to the squalor in the camps.

Ms. TANGIR HUSSEIN: Lots of diarrhea, lots of respiratory diseases, lots of infected wounds.

WATSON: At this mobile army surgical hospital in Muzaffarabad, a uniformed American nurse gently uses a hand pump to blow air into the lungs of one-year-old Akmed Abasi(ph).

(Soundbite of pump; coughing)

WATSON: US Air Force Dr. Fareed Sheik(ph) says the boy came down with pneumonia which then progressed to meningitis.

Dr. FAREED SHEIK (US Air Force): There's no tent. There's just open sky. So he could have started off with a small cold that just progressed to a massive meningitis that may have been avoided if tents were there.

WATSON: With the help of international aid organizations, the Pakistani military has been constructing tent cities down in the warmer lowlands for the estimated 100,000 people they expect to soon flee winter in the mountains. The United Nations says those people, as well as the families that remain high up in the hills, will need food, sanitation, schools and health care for up to six months, but the UN says it does not have enough money to fund this massive operation. Ivan Watson, NPR News.

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