Aid arrives as Pakistani quake toll nears 40 000

Aid began to flood into Pakistan on Monday as the death toll from the weekend's earthquake continued to grow and anger over the slow pace of the recovery effort boiled over in remote parts of Kashmir, which have been without supplies for days.

See photoreport of the disaster

Consignments of food, medical supplies, tents and sniffer dogs were landed in Islamabad as the authorities struggled to get relief to devastated areas. Key highways have been blocked by landslides and many communities have been without water and electricity for days.

In Pakistan, officials said the death toll would reach 40 000 by the end of the week. In Indian-administered Kashmir, the number of dead had passed 800, with more than 10 000 people still missing in the mountainous region in Kupwara district, near the India-Pakistan frontier.

The United States, which in the first hours of the crisis had apparently offered $100 000, raised its donation to $50-million when the scale of the disaster became apparent. Another significant American contribution is the diversion from Afghanistan of eight helicopters to airlift survivors from the disaster zone. The helicopters arrived from Kabul on Monday and the gesture will score a public relations coup for the US in Pakistan.

"The terrorists make us out as the infidels, but this is not true and we hope this mission will show that," US military spokesperson Sergeant Marina Evans told The Associated Press.

Britain has pledged $2-million-worth of assistance, including nine tonnes of relief supplies. Aid agencies said they were overwhelmed by the public's response to their appeals and the Pakistani diaspora had begun collecting substantial sums to send back home. The Muslim Council of Britain said it expected to raise more than $5-million over the next few weeks from collections at mosques, reports Mail & Guardian.

According to IOL, the US military in neighbouring Afghanistan said it was diverting eight helicopters being used in the war against Islamic militants to assist with emergency operations.

Aid agencies said more than 120 000 people were in urgent need of shelter and up to four million could be left homeless by what was South Asia's strongest quake in a century.

"We know that every hour counts in an earthquake of this magnitude," said UN emergency relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland.

Pakistan's information minister, Sheik Rashid Ahmed, said more than 20 000 people had been confirmed dead in Pakistan, but he said the number could rise.

Officials in North West Frontier Province and Pakistani Kashmir said the final death toll could be close to 40 000.

Pakistan reacted coolly to an Indian offer to send troops to help with relief work on the Pakistani side of Kashmir's Line of Control.


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