Relief trickles in to Pakistan quake survivors

By Athar Hussain

WAM, Pakistan, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Pakistani soldiers scrambled on Friday to get aid to tens of thousands of survivors in remote southwestern mountains where about 215 people were killed in an earthquake this week.

The 6.4 magnitude quake struck Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest but poorest province, on Wednesday. Worst hit was Ziarat district, a picturesque valley and one of the region's main tourist spots.

District chief Dilawar Khan said more than 45,000 people in the valley had been affected but only a small fraction of them had received help.

"Troops are trying to transport relief goods to the people but only 5 percent of those have so far been able to get some assistance," Khan told Reuters.

"Ninety-five percent are still without any aid. Only 1,500 tents have been distributed and if relief does not reach the people on time, there may be more losses."

With freezing night-time temperatures, officials said tents and blankets were urgently needed.

Help is on the way. The government said on Friday that Saudi Arabia was giving $100 million in aid for survivors.

The quake struck just over three years after a 7.6 magnitude quake hit Pakistan's northern mountains, killing 73,000. Last year, the worst floods on record in Baluchistan killed hundreds.

Most of the valley's population slept out in the open for a second night, either because their homes were destroyed or damaged, or in fear after almost 75 aftershocks, some nearly as strong as the original quake, hit the region.


The quake destroyed about 1,500 mud-walled houses, and close to 20,000 people are homeless. It triggered landslides that blocked roads, complicating search and relief operations.

Saleem Nawaz, head of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, said a search for survivors was coming to an end and efforts were being focused on helping the living.

"Rescue operations are almost over. Now the entire focus is on relief. We are trying to deliver relief as quickly as possible," Nawaz said.

Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, the chief minister of Baluchistan, has called for international help but the federal government has said authorities were assessing needs before deciding whether to seek foreign help.

The United States and China had pledged $1 million each for rehabilitation work, while Japan and several other countries had also promised help. The World Health Organisation said it was sending two truckloads of essential medicines and supplies.

The World Food Programme said it would provide 700 tonnes of dry food rations in initial relief supplies.

Baluchistan has Pakistan's biggest reserves of natural gas but there were no reports of damage to gas facilities.

In 1935, a severe earthquake killed about 30,000 people in Baluchistan, largely destroying the provincial capital, Quetta.

(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai, Gul Yousafzai; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel)


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