Race against time in Pakistan, Afghanistan to save lives after quake

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Islamabad (dpa) – Rescuers in Pakistan and Afghanistan were engaged in a race again time Tuesday to reach as many survivors as possible as night fell 36 hours after a major earthquake struck the region.

However, despite their best efforts, the death toll kept ticking upwards, with worries that it would only keep rising.

Military helicopters flew overtime with food and medicines, while heavy machines were busy repairing damaged roads to help rescuers reach inaccessible areas. Hospitals were overwhelmed with the inflows of injured people.

Late Tuesday, the death toll crossed 300 in Pakistan, with fears high it might only rise in the coming days, said Reema Zuberi, a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Authority.

In sparsely populated Afghanistan’s north-east, 115 have been reported dead since the 7.5-magnitude earthquake jolted a large swathe from Tajikistan down to New Delhi in India on Monday afternoon.

Most deaths in Pakistan were reported from the mountainous region of Malakand in the north-west near the Afghan border, Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed said.

More than 2,000 injured people were being treated at hospitals in the north-western province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Zuberi added.

Nearly 540 people were injured across nine provinces of Afghanistan, said Zafar Hashimi, deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani.

At least four people were killed in India’s Himalayan valleys near China and Pakistan, officials in New Delhi said.

More military helicopters and planes would fly to inaccessible areas on Tuesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in Malakand, where he supervised rescue efforts.

The army’s works and engineering department repaired the main highway connecting Pakistan with neighbouring China, enabling thousands of stranded travelers to continue their journey.

Other roads damaged by landslides were also being repaired to let rescuers reach survivors, highways authority chief Mushtaq Tarar said.

“Most infrastructure should be in place again by Wednesday noon (0700 GMT),” Tarar added.

Nearly 4,500 houses have been damaged, Zuberi said, adding that tribal regions near the Afghan border were also hit hard.

Most of the affected people in the north-western town of Dir spent the chilly night in the open, waiting for help to arrive.

“Our houses are destroyed. We are with children and without shelter,” said Zaman Khan, from the village of Chakdara. “Somebody should come and help us.”

An Islamic charity reached Khan’s family by Tuesday evening, but only with food and medicines. “We still need blankets and tents,” the distressed man said.

Afghan authorities were also struggling to reach survivors in the regions partially controlled by the insurgent Taliban, Badakhshan provincial council member Hamidullah Muslim said.

The Afghan Taliban asked humanitarian agencies to deliver emergency supplies to victims in remote areas.

The group “calls on our good-willed countrymen and charitable organizations to not hold back in providing shelter, food and medical supplies to the victims of this earthquake,” it said.

In Pakistan too, some charities linked with jihadist groups were the first ones from outside to reach victims in remote regions, local residents in the district of Dir told dpa.

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