Pakistani quake death toll above 54,000 relief flights resumed as rain clears

Weather improvement Monday allowed helicopter relief flights to resume across Pakistan's quake zone, but fresh landslides hampered efforts to move supplies by road and officials estimated the death toll could now be more than 54,000.

See photoreport of the disaster

Eight international medical teams took off from Muzaffarabad to outlying villages, as fears grew for millions of survivors without healthcare and shelter in the isolated mountains of Kashmir. A U.S. diplomat estimated that about one-fifth of populated areas had yet to be reached.

"There are serious patients with infected wounds and gangrene," said Sebastian Nouak of the International Committee of the Red Cross, after a team of its doctors landed in Chekar, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) east of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's part of the divided Himalayan region.

He said about 200 people in the town had not received any medical help since the 7.6 magnitude quake struck on Oct. 8, and landing choppers there was dangerous because desperate villagers rushed into the landing area.

In the town of Bagh, the bodies of six soldiers killed when their MI-17 transport helicopter crashed in bad weather Saturday were lain into simple wooden coffins for transport back to Islamabad. The remains were located Sunday but could not be flown back immediately because of the downpours.

Two strong aftershocks struck the region early Monday, including one with a magnitude of 4.5, but there were no immediate reports of damage. There have been hundreds of aftershocks, and experts say they could continue for months.

Officials on Sunday sharply raised estimates of the dead. Abdul Khaliq Wasi, a spokesman for the local government of Pakistani Kashmir, which bore the brunt of the quake, said at least 40,000 people died there and that the toll could go much higher. Not all the bodies had been counted and the figure represented the "closest estimate," he said.

Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan, the country's relief commissioner, said 29,000 tents and 118,000 blankets had been distributed in the quake zone. Khan had said earlier that 100,000 tents were needed.

The army said medical supplies such as syringes, painkillers and antibiotics also were needed, but asked donors to stop sending fresh water because most affected areas had enough.

In cooperation between two longtime rivals, India gave Pakistan permission to send relief helicopters into the 1.6 kilometer-wide (one mile-wide) no-fly-zone on the Pakistani side of the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir.

India's Foreign Ministry said its third shipment of aid to Pakistan, some 170 tons of supplies including 100 tons of fortified biscuits, would arrive by train on Monday.

Though aftershocks have caused little new damage, people have been too scared to go back into houses that survived the initial earthquake.

"My house is full of cracks, and I won't go inside," said Bagh resident Mumtaz Rathore, huddled under a plastic sheet with his wife and four children, reports the AP.


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