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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Cold is new danger for quake victims

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Bagh valley

Army relief
Official relief is in short supply - most is coming from volunteers
Survivors of Saturday's earthquake in the rural areas of Bagh valley in Pakistani-administered Kashmir say they are in desperate need of shelter.

They say they can manage without food but they are in dire need of waterproof tents or some form of shelter that can protect them against the elements.

Thousands of women and children are camped out in the open across the Bagh valley.

All along the road from Kohala to Bagh, survivors are lining the roads looking not for food or medicines but some form of shelter.

My children have survived the quake but it looks like they are going to die of cold now
Rangla village survivor

Volunteers bringing in relief supplies say they had not anticipated such a serious need for tents in the area. Most of them have concentrated on food and medicines.

It started raining heavily at around midday local time on Tuesday and has been raining steadily ever since.

The weather is getting increasingly cold, particularly when night falls, and heavy cloud cover over the valley suggests the rain is not about to let up.

"My children have survived the quake but it looks like they are going to die of cold now," one resident in the village of Rangla said.

Road nightmare

The journey from Muzaffarabad to the town of Bagh - via a highly circuitous route because of horrid road conditions - should have taken 12 hours at the most.

Somehow the human toll here in Bagh district does not seem to be as high as that in Muzaffarabad

Instead it has taken 20, and I am still not there.

Once we passed the Kohala bridge - which divides Punjab province from Pakistan-administered Kashmir - road conditions deteriorated instantly.

The last five hours were bone-jarring, as if I were a rattle in the hands of an unrelenting infant.

I have passed 17 villages now - most of the houses in each were razed to the ground.

In places, shops in small roadside bazaars have fallen onto the roads, blocking the way.

Particularly bad are the mountain passes, which army and private relief vehicles have struggled to get over for the past three days.

Somehow the human toll here in Bagh district does not seem to be as high as that in Muzaffarabad.

Thousands have died, surely, but the losses are spread out over a huge area covering hundreds of villages.

The difference, it seems, is concrete. Unlike concrete, the majority of the houses here are made of wood.

The roofs are made of tin. Even though most of these structures have collapsed, it was apparently possible for thousands who were trapped to wrestle their way out.


Curiously, in many places, the earthquake seems to have struck in patches.

A few houses down here, the next few there still standing - followed by another few that have collapsed.

Survivors camped in the open
Most survivors are camped out in the open

The place has an eerie feel to it, as if a giant has walked through it - crushing everything that came underfoot.

There has been one critical breakthrough, though.

The massive relief effort co-ordinated in the public and private sectors across Pakistan seems to be coming through.

The roads may be bad but at least they are open.

Literally every third vehicle on the roads is a truck, wagon or a private car carrying relief goods from different parts of Pakistan.

In Rawalpindi on Monday night, I heard that thousands of tonnes of rations had been mobilised while even more are waiting for transport which seems to be in short supply.

Out here on the road, one can see that Pakistanis have turned out - men, women and children - to help the Kashmiris.

Thousands of young men from all over the country have taken time off from work or college and are bringing in relief goods.

Villagers' honesty

The mountainfolk in the Bagh valley have risen to the occasion, too.

Having lost their houses - and loved ones in many cases - no one is rushing to horde food.

Everywhere I have stopped, people have told me that they took what they needed and guided the relief vehicles to villages that are furthest from the main road network.

Relief workers - a vast majority of them with no experience of such situations - are simply overwhelmed by the simplicity and honesty of the villagers.

Tough young men break into tears when describing the locals' integrity.

An 18-year-old college student said the experience had taught him more than 10 cushy lifetimes ever could.

Another said he had come to understand Pakistan and Pakistanis better after the quake.

Yet another said he had only heard of Kashmir before this and wasn't particularly interested in Pakistan's conflict with India over this Himalayan region.

Now, he said, he was in love with the place and hoped to come and live here once the crisis was over.


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