Quake death estimates reach 100,000

Pakistani government leaves official count at 38,000 but acknowledges that toll is likely to climb sharply

October 18, 2005|By CAROL J. WILLIAMS | CAROL J. WILLIAMS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Relief officials and local government leaders in northern Pakistan have reported significantly higher death tolls from the devastating Oct. 8 earthquake, with estimates reaching 100,000, the army's chief spokesman said yesterday.

The government has decided against revising its official estimate of 38,000 killed until its relief coordinator completes a survey, but it acknowledges that the toll probably will be much higher, said the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.

The government is reluctant to endorse the rise in field estimates because of its implications for the amount of money it will offer to victims in compensation, Sultan said. Parliament approved about $85 million in aid to quake victims a week ago, when the official toll was almost 20,000.

But Sultan confirmed that a trusted philanthropist reassessing casualties from the 7.6 magnitude quake estimated the number killed to be about 100,000. That report came from Abdul Saddar Edhi, whose foundation has been leading relief efforts, he said.

A spokesman for the governor of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, Abdul Khaliq Wasi, said in shattered Muzaffarabad that 40,000 were confirmed dead in his territory. Added to known deaths in neighboring North West Frontier Province and Indian-controlled Kashmir, that would put the toll at more than 54,000.

Adnan Asdar, a volunteer coordinating surgeries and medical evacuations in Muzaffarabad, said he calculated that at least 75,000 have died and that the toll could swell unless the homeless are provided adequate shelter before winter sets in. Snow has begun dusting the Himalayan foothills, where the quake was most destructive.

A driving rain that had grounded the humanitarian airlift ended yesterday, allowing resumption of air drops to remote mountain hamlets and the evacuation of dozens of injured from isolated villages. More than 1,200 sorties were flown by the international fleet of 60 helicopters aiding victims, said Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan, the relief coordinator.

As much as 20 percent of the territory ravaged by the earthquake has yet to receive any food, medical care or shelter because it is cut off by landslides or is at altitudes too high for helicopters to operate, said relief officials.

Several thousand injured survivors are thought to be stranded in mountain villages, and humanitarian relief workers have warned that many will die of infections unless they are treated soon.

The United Nations estimates that the quake left 3 million people homeless. Pakistani authorities repeated a global appeal for more tents to protect survivors from the elements. Khan said 250,000 tents are needed but only 33,000 have been mustered.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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