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Officials argue abandoning rescue for relief

By wire services
Published October 15, 2005

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Hope of finding people alive under the rubble of last week's earthquake is dwindling, but Pakistani officials and rescue teams said Friday they won't stop searching for survivors.

"The effort to pull people out of the debris is continuing," Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan Khan, spokesperson for the Pakistani military, said Friday. "Today, our focus is to move to far-off areas, whether by helicopters, on animals or through roads. If there are injured, they will be brought back for medical treatment."

On Friday, Sultan denied news reports that officials in Muzaffarabad said that rescue operations had been halted because the possibility of finding survivors had become unlikely. "No decision has been taken to discontinue the search for survivors," Sultan said in Islamabad.

But with Pakistan's death toll from the Oct. 8 earthquake estimated at more than 35,000, Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general and emergency relief coordinator, said the search-and-rescue phase was now over. "It's a cruel reality. But after a week, very few people survive," he said.

Still, Dr. Mazhar Hussain told Pakistan's GEO television and the British Broadcasting Corp. that his rescue team had pulled an 18-month-old girl, unconscious but alive, from her collapsed house. Her mother and two brothers were found dead nearby, but her father survived.

"Her right hand is broken and she has a fracture in her left leg," he said on GEO, speaking from Balimang in the North-West Frontier province, where the girl was found.

Egeland, who traveled to hard-hit areas, said he feared bottlenecks of relief supplies.

"If we don't work together, we will become a disaster within a disaster," he said. He said it would take billions of dollars and "five to 10 years" to rebuild.

Stories of long waits and inadequate aid could be heard across the region. In Pakistan, at least 71 amputations have been carried out on earthquake victims whose wounds became infected while they waited days for evacuation by helicopter, Pakistani doctors said Friday.

Pakistan's Meteorological Department warned Friday of coming rain and hail, which could hamper relief and rescue efforts, especially those relying on helicopters.

And in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where temperatures plummeted to 41 degrees in the foothills of the Himalayas on Friday, there was an acute shortage of tents, leaving earthquake survivors to spend their seventh night outdoors.

The state government said Friday that more than 30,000 tents were needed, and there were conflicting reports on how many tents had been dispatched to the area so far; the estimates ranged from 4,000 to 6,000. Either way, the vast majority of survivors had to make do with nothing but what they could salvage from the wreckage of their former homes.

In Pakistan, an equally daunting problem has emerged: finding enough hospital beds for the thousands of injured. U.N. and Pakistani officials said the more than 5,000 people injured in the Islamabad area have filled local hospitals to capacity. In Islamabad, hundreds of Kashmiri refugees stormed a government apartment complex Thursday night, where about 500 apartments were vacant.

Police tried to stop the Kashmiri refugees but soon gave in, as the quake survivors broke locks and occupied the small apartments.

Also in Islamabad, police launched a criminal investigation into the collapse of a 10-story luxury residence that was the capital's only structure to fall in the magnitude-7.6 quake, killing at least 40 residents.

"We will arrest all those who didn't perform their duty well," said the city police chief, Sikandar Hayat. "They might be the builders, contractors or supervisors."

Many exhausted relief workers dealt with the added burden of fasting during the daytime hours for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Water and electricity were restored to parts of Muzaffarabad, a Kashmiri city of 600,000 in the heart of the quake zone. Authorities worked to bring power back to outlying villages.

The United Nations launched an appeal Tuesday for some $272-million for quake victims, but its chief humanitarian envoy, Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, said an additional $40-million was needed.

So far, he said, pledges for just over $50-million have been received, with $4.6-million turned into firm commitments or contributions.

The biggest donations to the U.N. appeal are $17-million from Britain, $10-million from Sweden and $8-million from Canada, he said.

President Bush pledged up to $50-million, and the U.S. Agency for International Development has already earmarked $10.8-million for the U.N. appeal, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations said. But the U.N. said this has not been reported yet to its financial tracking service.

Many countries, including the United States, have also made bilateral donations to Pakistan.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

[Last modified October 15, 2005, 01:16:10]

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