Pakistan: Thousands of quake victims face freezing temperatures

News and Press Release
Originally published
ZIARAT, 30 October 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of people in the sparsely populated southwestern province of Balochistan have spent a freezing night in the open. Aftershocks from the 29 October earthquake continued to rock the area, creating widespread panic.

Temperatures in Ziarat and other affected areas were recorded by the Pakistan Met Office at between minus one and minus four degrees Centigrade on the night of 29-30 October.

The death toll from the quake, which measured 6.4 on the Richter scale, is now being officially put at 236, with over 400 injured. Aid workers who have rushed to the scene believe these numbers could rise as more bodies are dug out of the rubble.

Northwestern Balochistan, including the Ziarat and Pishin districts, was worst hit by the quake. Seven to eight villages in Ziarat have reportedly been levelled.

"Wam village is among those that have been completely destroyed," the mayor of Ziarat, Dilawar Kakar, told IRIN. He said not a single house remained standing in the village. Burials in mass graves have taken place in the area.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in a preliminary report that Malik Payo Khan and Tarrai villages have been razed to the ground. The chairman of Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Farooq Ahmed Khan, has confirmed the destruction of at least 2,000 houses.

Eyewitnesses say many homes have been destroyed by boulders tumbling down mountains as a result of the quake and the aftershocks.

"Thousands of houses are in ruins. The road from Quetta to Ziarat, a stretch of some 70km, has huge cracks in it and this is making it difficult to bring in relief or take people who need hospital care to Quetta," Farooq Ahmed, 28, a local rescuer, told IRIN.

Damage assessment, aid

Damage assessment teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN agencies are now moving to the affected areas.

The UN spokesperson in Islamabad, Amna Kemal, said the UN country team was "waiting to see what kind of assistance was required". The UN is reported to have mobilised supplies in the country.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was sending in enough medicines and other items to "meet the needs of 50,000 people for three months".

The USA, Canada, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have also offered assistance.

NDMA says 2,000 tents, 5,000 blankets and other supplies have been dispatched to Balochistan, but poor road conditions have hampered delivery.

Local NGOs, working with volunteers or military personnel, are focusing on providing food, medical aid and shelter to the homeless. The government has announced compensation for victims.

"No tent and no blankets"

"My family and I, including my four young grandchildren, spent all night outdoors, without any kind of shelter. No tent and no blankets were provided to us. We just pulled out our quilts from our house and huddled under them," said Zairaf Khan, 50, who lives in Ziarat. His house is intact, but portions have cracked and the family is too scared to move indoors. "The tremors are continuing and that means we cannot go back into our homes."

The head of the Met Office, Qamaruzzaman Chaudhry, said "44 aftershocks have been felt so far". More are expected over the coming 24 hours.

"It was so cold that I gathered my two children near me and rubbed their bodies to keep them warm because I was worried about them getting very sick," said the pregnant Raheema Bibi, 22, a quake victim in Ziarat. "Both my children are already sick with fever. I am very worried about them and myself."