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NWFP’s plea for help

October 10, 2005

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PESHAWAR, Oct 9: NWFP Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani on Sunday put the death toll in his province at well above 8,000 and said his government desperately needed help to cope with the situation.

“The situation is quite bad. I have seen the devastation and I have no words to describe it,” Mr Durrani told Dawn on phone from Islamabad. The chief minister who visited Mansehra, one of the severly affected districts, on Sunday, moved to Islamabad to seek more funds to cope with the disaster.

“I am hoping (to get some funds). What else can we do”, the chief minister said, adding that the response from the federal government so far had not been to his satisfaction.

Earlier in the day, the chief minister briefed President Pervez Musharraf on the situation in the northern districts. The president announced Rs. 10 million for relief.

Surpassingly, Corps Commander Peshawar, Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain, who accompanied the president on his tour of the northern districts, put the death toll at not more than 1,000.

The figure appeared to be grossly understated because in just one district of Battagram, the toll has crossed 1,000. Figures compiled by the central control room of the police department in the NWFP on Sunday evening updated the death toll at 1829 and the number of injured at 1356.

“These are figures from places where bodies have been counted,” the chief minister said.

He said that many casualties remained unaccounted for. “I think the figure would be very very high,” he said.

Mr Durrani said that his government was in desperate need for tents. “We have ordered 30,000 tents. But it is difficult to get them in such large quantities,” he said. “People are lying in the open and are reluctant to move to their homes. In hospitals patients are being treated in the open, surgeries are being performed in tents,” he said.

The provincial police chief, Riffat Pasha, told Dawn that roads blocked by the quake posed a major impediment in reaching the area.

“The problem still is that we have not been able to reach many places, roads are blocked and our men and rescue teams have not been able to access many devastated areas,” Mr Pasha said.

He said he had been informed by his officers that in Balakot so far 1,000 deaths had been confirmed. Mansehra and Battagram, the two northern districts, appear to have suffered the most damage.

The death toll there so far stands close to 1500. The police chief said people there were in urgent need of tents, blankets, foodstuff and medicine. “It is still a difficult situation. Bodies are lying in the open and people have actually gone tired of burying their dead. They have lost everything,” our Pasha said.

With roads blocked at several places because of landslides, the government said it could not move heavy machinery to clear up the rubble and retrieve bodies or recover those who might still be alive.

Balakot, Jabori and other adjoining areas remain inaccessible. There is hardly a house or a family there which had not lost a member, a statement issued by the provincial government said. Boys and girls schools which stood side by side in Garhi Habibullah, the Gul Mera Primary School for Boys and Girls, collapsed. Locals have been able to retrieve 150 bodies, while bodies of another 250 children were still in the rubble.

Innumerable people are unaccounted for, buried in the debris in different parts of Balakot tehsil. Thousands of people spent the Saturday night in the open in the tremor-hit areas of Hazara region due to continuous aftershocks and non-availability of shelters and there is severe shortage of drinking water and food.

Residents in Abbottabad, Mansehra and adjoining areas left their homes, scared by the aftershocks and spent night in graveyards, parks and on roads.

Hospitals and health-care centres in Abbottabad and Mansehra towns are short of life-saving drugs and medical staff and beds have been placed in open areas to provide treatment to the injured.

Doctors said that the number of patients had been increasing at the Ayub Medical Complex after various link-roads were opened in the affected areas. “Situation in the hilly Balakot tehsil is devastating and not a single building can be found infact,” said a survivor.

“The affected people have no shelter, no drinking water, no first-aid and aid agencies have yet to reach there”, Najeeb Ahmad, who has been associated with a relief organisation, told Dawn from Abbottabad.

The Chief Executive of the Ayub Medical Complex, Abbottabad, Dr M. Sajjad, told Dawn that over 2,000 people with multiple injuries had been treated since Saturday. Of them, about 500 who were in serious condition have been admitted.

Officials acknowledged that relief operation was very slow in Mansehra district where army troops backed by heavy machinery arrived on Sunday. Witnesses said that the troops were seen moving towards Garhi Habibullah and Balakot towns to launch rescue operation.

Military helicopters made several sorties over the quake-ravaged Balakot and dropped blankets and food-packs. Foreign aid workers and rescue teams have started arriving in Mansehra and Abbottabad to proceed to the tremor-hit areas.

Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court Justice Tariq Pervez has announced one-week closure of all courts in the five most affected districts of Abbottabad, Mansehra, Kohistan, Batagram and Shangla. The Abbottabad circuit bench will also remain closed.