Hopes fade for more quake survivors

5-year-old girl is pulled unscathed from wreckage of building in Pakistani capital

October 13, 2005|By CAROL J. WILLIAMS | CAROL J. WILLIAMS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Russian rescuers freed an almost-unscathed 5-year-old girl yesterday who had been entombed for five days in a collapsed stairwell. But as hopes faded for finding many more survivors of last week's earthquake, relief workers turned to aiding the estimated 4 million left injured or homeless amid the rubble.

A rush of international assistance, more moderate weather and better coordination among national and foreign relief teams allowed authorities to slowly move food, water and temporary shelter to victims in remote, mountainous villages.

Still, untold thousands remained stranded beyond piles of rock and debris blocking roads, out of reach of aid convoys and too numerous to be helped by the few helicopters available.

The rescue of Zarabe Shah from her ruined home here in Islamabad gave a lift to those still searching shattered buildings. The Russian crew used equipment that detects exhaled carbon dioxide to locate the child in a stairwell beneath slabs of shattered cement. Her short hair and red print dress were covered with dust as she appeared on Pakistani television after the rescue, but she was otherwise unhurt.

Her mother and siblings had left the city Tuesday, despairing of finding other survivors, an elderly uncle told reporters.

At least 30 countries, including Pakistan's rival, India, have sent planeloads of supplies and emergency workers to treat the wounded and erect tents in areas already dusted with snow and gripped by near-freezing temperatures at night. United Nations officials warned that pneumonia, disease or exposure threatened entire communities.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a detour from a trip through Central Asia to visit Pakistan in the late afternoon and promise more money and supplies to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the nation's president and a key ally in the U.S.-declared global war against terrorism.

In a nationally televised address late yesterday, Musharraf apologized for the slow pace of rescue and relief operations in the first days after Saturday's 7.6-magnitude quake. He blamed damaged highways and the lack of aircraft for the failure to provide immediate aid to the worst-hit areas but said the flow of supplies had much improved. Satellite imagery was being examined to assess needs in desolate areas that are accessible only by foot, he said.

Musharraf called for unity and voiced determination to build stronger communities to replace those lost to the quake.

"We must convert this disaster into improvement," Musharraf said. "We cannot bring back those who have lost their lives, but we can certainly improve the lives of those who have been affected."

The Pentagon has diverted 12 Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters from bases in neighboring Afghanistan to ferry injured quake victims to hospitals in Islamabad.

Some older apartment houses in the relatively modern Pakistani capital collapsed, but those of newer construction mostly weathered the temblor and its aftershocks with little damage.

The U.S. government has pledged to bring in two dozen more helicopters in the next few days. European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization also announced they were making a handful of military cargo planes available to airlift humanitarian aid to the disaster area.

Relief agencies have appealed for more aircraft. Television broadcasts showed Pakistani soldiers tossing parcels of food and water to desperate crowds from aircraft flying low over villages cut off since Saturday. Rain and hail that grounded relief flights Tuesday dissipated overnight.

Stepped-up arrival of aid was obvious at the Islamabad-Rawalpindi airport and a nearby military field, where the runways were carpeted with foreign and Pakistani military cargo planes delivering wooden crates and plastic-shrouded pallets of water, high-protein biscuits, blankets and tents. Most commercial flights were hours late arriving because of the congestion.

The official death toll was unchanged from the 23,000 reported Tuesday, but CARE International and other relief organizations said the fatalities in Pakistan alone exceed 30,000. More than 4 million were injured, displaced or lost their means of making a living, the agencies reported.

An additional 1,400 died in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where cold and rain continued to hamper troops trying to reach tens of thousands in the rugged Himalayan territory.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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