tampabay.com

Pakistani kids of quake get surprise gifts

Associated Press
Published December 25, 2005


MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan) - High in the mountains of Kashmir, where few have heard of Christmas, an American admiral on Saturday surprised hundreds of child survivors of the massive South Asian quake with gifts of stuffed toys and candies.

Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, the senior U.S. commander of the humanitarian mission, said Americans were sharing the joy of Christmas with Pakistani Muslims the same way they shared their Islamic holiday with their foreign guests.

"We are here for humanitarian work and this effort is part of it," said LeFever, standing outside the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital set up to help quake survivors. "If this could help bring small innocent children out of the shock they suffered, it would be wonderful."

The gifts included a miniature Chinook helicopter, a favorite among Kashmiri children because it's associated with relief, as well as a model fighter jet, tennis rackets, jigsaw puzzles and dolls.

Javed Akbar, a shy 9-year-old, was holding his mother's hand when he received a racket and a stuffed yellow bear from an American soldier wearing Santa's hat.

"I would like to play. I say thank you very much for this nice toy," he said quietly.

An estimated 87,000 people were killed when the 7.6-magnitude temblor struck Pakistan and the Himalayan region of Kashmir on Oct. 8.

Meanwhile, former President George Bush, recently appointed to lead the U.N. effort to help victims of the quake, pledged to continue helping quake survivors, Pakistani state-run media said Saturday.

In a telephone call from the United States, Bush told Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf he would soon visit quake-hit areas to inspect relief work, state media said. Musharraf then thanked Bush for accepting the position of U.N. envoy and said he was grateful to the world community and the U.N. for helping Pakistan.

In recent days, the Pakistani army, with the help of U.N. and other aid groups, has stepped up delivery of winterized tents, warm clothes, food and medical items to survivors. The U.N. estimates 2.5-million people are living in tents below elevations of 5,000 feet, while 350,000 to 400,000 others are still at risk in higher areas, where snow has started falling.