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Quake toll at 79,000

Associated Press
Published October 20, 2005


BALAKOT, Pakistan - The death toll soared to 79,000 Wednesday from South Asia's mammoth earthquake, after a survey of one of the two hardest-hit Pakistani regions - making it one of the deadliest quakes in modern times.

More aftershocks rattled the region, sending up huge clouds of dust from steep-sided mountain valleys where villages lie in pieces. During a helicopter tour of the ruins, the president promised new, quake-ready houses for the homeless.

In remote mountains, a steady flow of injured villagers continued to seek medical attention. Many had infected wounds, untreated since the Oct. 8 temblor, and had to rely on relatives to carry them for hours on foot to makeshift clinics.

More than 60 helicopters were dropping relief supplies, and mule trains were pushing into areas where no helicopters can land.

"Many people out there, we are not going to get to in time," said Rob Holden, the U.N. disaster coordinator in Pakistan's part of Kashmir. "Some people who have injuries don't have a chance of survival."

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that with winter approaching a second "massive wave of death" would occur in Pakistan's quake areas unless the international community immediately increases the relief effort.

"This is a huge, huge disaster," Annan said. "It is a race against time to save the lives of these people."

"I would hope that the international community will respond and those with capacity will do everything possible to work with us and work with the Pakistani government," he said.

Eleven days after the 7.6-magnitude quake, the full scale of the disaster is becoming apparent. A helicopter trip through the badly hit Neelum and Kaghan Valleys showed flattened homes on mountainsides and roads blocked by boulders, trees and earth. Moving only on foot, people were fashioning new pathways over landslides.

The central government updated its death toll to 47,700, but regional authorities gave much higher figures, based on information trickling in from outlying areas and as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Since the early days of the disaster, the central government death tally has lagged behind that of local authorities, although federal officials have said privately they expect the toll to rise dramatically.

Citing reports from local authorities and hospital officials, the government of North West Frontier Province said 37,958 people had died there and the toll was likely to rise. The prime minister in Pakistani-held Kashmir said at least 40,000 people died in that neighboring region. India has reported 1,360 deaths in the part of Kashmir that it controls.

Those tallies would push the death toll to 79,318 from the quake.

That figure was in line with an estimate Wednesday from a senior army official that 75,000 to 80,000 people had died across Pakistan. The official did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to comment on the death toll.

Aid workers fear casualties could rise even further as communities without adequate food, shelter or health care will soon face the harsh Himalayan winter. Snow has already begun to fall in high mountains, and some villages face subfreezing temperatures at night.

However, the death toll in Pakistan is unlikely to come close to December's magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami that killed more than 176,000 people - most of them in Indonesia - or a magnitude 8.2 temblor that killed at least 240,000 in Tangshan, China, in 1976.

Hundreds of aftershocks are still rattling the South Asian quake zone, frightening the many homeless who are camping by ruined homes. A 5.8-magnitude tremor struck on Wednesday morning, near the epicenter of the main quake. Less than an hour later, a second was felt that registered 5.6.

[Last modified October 20, 2005, 01:21:02]


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