Death Toll in Pakistan Earthquake Estimated at 40,000

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, October 10, 2005 (ENS) - An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale occurred on Saturday morning 90 kilometers (55 miles) north-northeast of Islamabad, damaging large areas across northern Pakistan.

The quake, said to be the worst in more than 100 years, has killed up to 40,000 people, and left thousands of others homeless. Officials say the death toll could climb even higher as teams comb the wreckage for bodies. Some 42,000 people were injured.

According to preliminary estimates, at least 4.5 million people are without shelter as winter weather closes in on the mountainous region.

The quake damaged areas of six northern districts of the North Western Frontier Province, and five districts of Azad of Jammu and Kashmir, including Muzaffarabad, the chief city and capital of Azad Kashmir, which is administered by Pakistan. The people of Muzaffarabad have suffered a large number of deaths and injuries.

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Rescuer finds a survivor in the rubble of Saturday's earthquake. (Photo courtesy WFP)
Pakistan’s seismic and weather experts have recorded over 140 aftershocks, with 21 over a magnitude of 5 on the Richter scale, since Saturday morning initial severe quake.

The small villages and scattered settlements of the mountainous region are now cut off by landslides that have blocked all roads in, except for one road that was opened to light vehicles late Sunday afternoon. Telephone and power lines are down across the affected region.

Today, President Pervez Musharraf embarked on an aerial reconnaissance of the earthquake-hit areas of Manshera district, while Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, accompanied by the Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, flew along the Karakoram Highway to assess the damage.

Mercy Corps' emergency response team visited areas around the Pakistan earthquake's epicenter today and reported the situation as "horrific." Several sources in the area put the death toll at 40,000 and that is the figure that the coalition of international agencies in Islamabad is using now for its planning.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Sunday that estimates of deaths range between 18,000 and 30,000 people, although neither figure can be confirmed.

The office of President Musharraf reports that 215 members of the Parkistan Army have died in the disaster, including six officers, and 414 other Army personnel were wounded.

The quake was felt in Islamabad, where a multi-story building, the Margalla Towers, collapsed as a result. Pakistani crews worked alongside an 86 member British team that arrived Sunday with thermal imaging equipment that they used to locate survivors in the rubble. Some 60 residents were rescued alive, but more are still trapped in the collapsed building and heavy rain is hampering relief efforts.

Prime Minister Aziz called an emergency meeting of the cabinet in Islamabad Sunday. Briefing reporters after the meeting, Aziz said the government decided to expend Rs. five billion (US$83.7 million) on relief assistance, up from the one billion rupees previously allotted.

The Prime Minister said the entire country would observe a three day period of mourning. The government has decided to pay Rs. 100,000 (US$1,675) for the loss of each person to the families of the victims, he said.

The Prime Minister ordered that the road links be restored as a matter of priority. The government is rushing in medical teams and food for the homeless survivors.

The Pakistan military has been charged with the responsibility of coordinating the emergency response for the government and is operating a fleet of helicopters, carrying emergency supplies into the damaged area, and casualties out.

Many of the people hardest hit by Saturday’s earthquake have endured other natural disasters over the past year - unprecedented rains and snowfall last winter, followed by floods and avalanches in February.

Relief supplies and funds began pouring in from the international community Sunday. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda offered US$10 million and said the bank could significantly increase its assistance, depending on detailed assessments of the damage caused by the earthquakes.

Peter Fedon, the bank's country director in Pakistan, said ADB project teams already in place for existing projects in the hardest hit districts will be immediately mobilized to carry out rehabilitation and reconstruction work.

Priority areas to be covered under ADB's earthquake assistance in Pakistan will include rehabilitation of affected school buildings and rural health centers, roads and bridges, and water supply and electricity infrastructure in rural areas.

Musharrafs

President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf visited the North Western Frontier Province Sunday to view the earthquake damage. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is issuing a preliminary emergency appeal for 10.8 million Swiss francs to support some 30,000 earthquake survivor families. The Red Crescent Society has sent two assessment teams to the area and Pakistan's national Emergency Relief Cell is sending relief supplies to the affected areas by road.

The earthquake was also felt across northern India, where buildings have collapsed, and official reports confirm the deaths of more than 200 people and more than 400 others have been injured.

The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary confirmed that 157 people have been killed in the Uri sector in Indian-administered Kashmir, according to the IFRC. Officials report that 80 percent of the houses in Uri have been destroyed and the public hospital has been turned to rubble. The Jammu-Srinagar highway is closed by landslides.

There is minor damage in Afghanistan, where two people are reported to have been killed.

The government of Pakistan is seeking international assistance to provide cargo helicopters, engineering plant equipment to open routes and for reconstruction of roads, relief goods, food medicines, tents, blankets. Pakistan is self sufficient in manpower enforcements.

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Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaukat Aziz (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
A UN Flash Appeal is scheduled to be launched on Tuesday. OCHA is calling an information sharing meeting with the Permanent Missions and an Inter-Agency Standing Committee meeting on Monday in Geneva.

The United Nations Country team, assisted by the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team, has set up a reception center at the Islamabad airport to receive international Search and Rescue teams and other international assistance. The UN team has also set up a coordination center at the World Food Programme office in Islamabad and an On-Site Operations Coordination Centre in Muzaffarabad.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is mobilizing urgent relief, including a planned airlift to Pakistan of 120 metric tons of high energy biscuits that will nourish 240,000 quake victims for five days. The agency says that the vitamin-fortified biscuits are essential in the very first days of a natural disaster when survivors have no means to cook their own food.

"Many of these people have already been hit by huge natural disasters this year. This makes it even more imperative that there are no delays in the international community’s response," said Amir Abdulla, regional director for WFP's operations in the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

To fund its initial food assistance, WFP is using up to US$500,000 from its emergency response account. A wider appeal for relief assistance to underwrite the agency’s emergency food and logistics operation in the region may be launched in the next few days.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Sunday that it is appealing for an initial US$20 million to provide emergency relief to children and families who survived the Pakistan earthquake. UNICEF made the plea as it opened its Peshawar warehouse of pre-stocked relief supplies, loading 17,000 blankets, 570 pairs of rubber boots for children, 500 children’s sweaters, jerry cans and tarps onto trucks and sending them to Mansehra, one of the worst affected areas.

Additional supplies have been mobilized from the UNICEF warehouse in Karachi, including water purification tablets, blankets, rubber boots, sweaters, and 375 cartons of high protein biscuits. These supplies will be flown to Peshawar on Tuesday. A convoy is already en route by road, carrying 15 water tanks, tarps, soap, and jerry cans.

Speaking from New York, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said, TThis appeal means immediate action to save children’s lives. Needed assistance includes medical care, clean water, nutritional food for infants, clothing, and shelter – the things that matter most in the critical few weeks after a disaster like this when children and their families have lost everything."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has opened a warehouse in Peshawar to assist earthquake victims, as it assists more than 800,000 refugees in that region, and is organizing logistical support.

The Government of India has not requested international assistance.

The Indian Directorate of Health Services is coordinating medical relief and has deployed a medical response team of 30 members - physicians, surgeons, anesthetists, and orthopedic surgeons. The Indian Red Cross Society of Jammu and Kashmir Branch is assessing the requirements for relief activities. The districts administration has started conducting damage assessment of the affected districts.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday offered his sympathy on behalf of the people of the United States "for the loss of life and destruction caused by the earthquake that struck outside of Islamabad."

The United States is providing an initial contribution of up to $50 million for relief and reconstruction. A U.S. military aircraft containing blankets, winterized tents, and other relief supplies was scheduled to arrive in Islamabad Monday. Three more military planes are scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday and other military relief missions will follow.

Eight U.S. military helicopters are scheduled to arrive today to assist in bringing emergency relief to remote communities and villages affected by the earthquake.

A seven-person Disaster Assistance Response Team will begin arriving in Pakistan Monday to assess humanitarian needs, assist with targeting and coordination of U.S. assistance, and provide technical assistance as needed. A 23 member contingency support group from MacGuire Air Force Base is en route and will be involved in planning and logistics support.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "At this difficult time, the United States stands with its friends in Pakistan and India, just as they stood with us and offered assistance after Hurricane Katrina," the storm that devastated portions of the U.S. Gulf coast on August 29.

The Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC has set up an emergency response unit, which will remain open around-the-clock, for providing information to the community about the earthquake.

The Emergency Response Unit's telephone contact number is: 1-202-243-3243. The Embassy's charge d’affairs Mohammad Sadiq said "all Consulates and the Embassy will issue visas to all those approaching for emergency visas, round-the-clock."

For Pakistani citizens in cities where consular facilities are not locally available, on arrival a visa is to be issued in Islamabad.

Earthquakes and active faults in northern Pakistan and adjacent parts of India and Afghanistan are the direct result of the Indian subcontinent moving northward at a rate of about 40 millimeters per year (1.6 inches/yr) and colliding with the Eurasian continent, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

This collision is causing uplift that produces the highest mountain peaks in the world including the Himalayan, the Karakoram, the Pamir and the Hindu Kush ranges.