Pakistan quake survivors await aid in second chilly night

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Islamabad_(dpa) _ Rescue workers on Thursday fanned out in south-western Pakistan, distributing relief supplies among thousands of earthquake survivors as the authorities said the death toll might climb to as much as 300.

Many isolated hamlets remained inaccessible as hungry, distraught women, children and elders waited for aid while spending a second freezing night in the open.

About 20,000 people were left homeless after their mud-brick houses were flattened by a magnitude-6.4 earthquake that hit Balochistan province just before dawn Wednesday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Locals assisted by government troops and paramilitary forces searched the rubble for survivors, but hopes were low of pulling anyone out alive more than 36 hours after the devastation.

Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the provincial governor, said the loss of life and property was much higher than the assessments made so far, adding that "relief work must be expedited to evade a human disaster."

The death toll kept rising as rescuers retrieved bodies, and there were conflicting official casualty figures.

Hospitals have received 149 bodies so far while 89 people were buried by locals, the Urdu-language Geo news channel quoted Balochistan police chief Asif Nawaz Warraich as saying.

But the provincial minister for revenue and rehabilitation, Zmarak Khan, said by telephone that at least 300 people were confirmed dead and more than 350 were injured.

"We are now focusing on relief efforts," he said as he travelled with a caravan carrying supplies to Ziarat, the worst affected district. "Tents, blankets, winter jackets, sleeping bags, rice, sugar, tea and other edible items are being distributed among the survivors."

National Disaster Management Authority Chairman Farooq Ahmed Khan told reporters in Islamabad that two tent villages were set up in the affected areas where around 2,200 were accommodated last night.

However, the locals complained the aid was insufficient and coming slowly.

"Twenty women are sitting in one tent and children are hungry," survivor Abdul Hai said. "We need food, we need water and we need something that could keep us warm in the night. The government is doing nothing."

The WHO said it was sending medical supplies that would last three months for 50,000 people and was flying trauma supplies stored at the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai to treat 400 people into the region.

The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said it planned to provide food assistance to those left homeless.

The WFP plans to initially provide 700 tons of dry food rations to affected communities. The packages include wheat flour, pulses, cooking oil and salt for two months, according to a statement.

Pakistani military aircraft were making sorties to deliver tents, medicine and blankets to far-flung villages devastated by the quake and still out of reach of rescue teams mainly because of damaged roads.

Around 700 desperate survivors blocked the main road linking Quetta to the Zhob district, demanding relief items.

Major General Asif Nawaz, regional head of the Frontier Corps paramilitary force, said his troops were reaching out to homeless people not leaving the site of their demolished huts.

Temperatures in the region dropped below freezing overnight.

"The forecast for the next few days is partly cloudy, but the mercury is likely to fall further," Pakistan Meteorological Department Director General Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry said.

Scores of injured people have poured into hospitals but are camping outside the brick and concrete buildings with memories of Wednesday's quake. Authorities have pitched tents to accommodate those refusing to stay indoors.

Several countries and the European Union have offered assistance to Pakistan; however, Islamabad has so far not made any formal request for help, terming the incident "localized."

A deadly earthquake also struck Pakistan in October 2005 when a magnitude-7.6 tremor in Kashmir and Pakistan's mountainous north killed at least 73,000 people, left 3.5 million homeless and prompted the country to seek international help to recover from the disaster. dpa yam ns pw ls

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