Thursday October 13, 2005
Areas of Pakistan worst affected by Saturday’s earthquake were today hit by an aftershock that halted efforts to find the dwindling number of trapped survivors. According to an Associated Press report, a 22-year-old woman buried in the rubble of an apartment building in Muzaffarabad died when rescuers were forced to abandon their bid to free her.
British, German and Turkish teams worked to save the woman until 2am (10pm BST) when the 5.6 magnitude aftershock made them retreat for their own safety. But returning at daybreak, the sniffer dog that had detected the woman in the rubble let out a whine, the signal that meant it could only smell a corpse. Some rescue workers wept. “It was a very difficult decision to leave a living person and I had a responsibility to my team. It could have meant their death,” said Steff Hopkins, a British team leader. The aftershock’s epicentre was 85 miles north of Islamabad, near the epicentre of Saturday’s 7.6 magnitude earthquake that destroyed entire towns in Kashmir and killed an estimated 35,000 people. It shook buildings but there was no further significant damage to an already devastated region. “There was a lot of panic. People were scared. Even those who were sleeping in tents came out. Everybody was crying,” said Nisar Abbasi, 36, an accountant camping out on the lawn of his destroyed home in Muzaffarabad. The region has suffered a number of aftershocks since Saturday, including one of 6.2 magnitude, and they could continue for months or even years. British charities have launched a joint appeal for the quake’s survivors through the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). A live TV appeal will tonight attempt to boost the £2 million raised so far in donations for the victims. An Oxfam aid flight will set off for Pakistan from Kent today carrying water tanks, blankets and children’s winter clothing, while the government, which has promised to give £10m, will fly over supplies from a base in Dubai. The UN has asked for £151m in international aid, but getting tents and blankets to survivors in remote regions is proving difficult. Jan Egeland, the organisations emergency relief chief, today said he feared “we are losing the race against the clock in the small villages”. Meanwhile, German, Afghan, Pakistani and US helicopters are delivering tents and medical equipment to remote regions and bringing back injured people on each flight. But the hope of finding survivors in collapsed buildings is dwindling, and the British search and rescue team in Muzaffarabad is set to pull out. Rob Holden, the team leader for UN disaster assessment and coordination, said there was no longer a need for so many international units. “No one is giving up but it is the acceptance that the actual real chances of finding someone alive are almost nil, so we don’t need all the specialist international teams,” he said, adding that there are still 18 international teams in the region.