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Pakistan Gets Disaster Aid as Quake Toll Mounts

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Rescuers are digging through the rubble in a frantic search for survivors of yesterday's earthquake in Pakistan and India. At least 20,000 are reported dead and more than 40,000 injured, and those numbers are expected to rise. Today, Pakistani President General Pervaiz Musharraf called it the worst disaster in the country's history and appealed to the world for help.

President PERVAIZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): I hope that you realize this hour of crisis to our nation.

ELLIOTT: The quake was centered in the Hindu Kush Mountains, but affected an area spanning more than 700 square miles. The most severe damage is in Kashmir, the region at the center of a political struggle between India and Pakistan. Entire villages have been destroyed. Vivian Tan is with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Islamabad.

Ms. VIVIAN TAN (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): There's an urgent need for a coordinated response. Road conditions are very, very bad. Landslides and mudslides have cut off access to large parts of the north of the country, and broken infrastructure also makes it hard for trucks or cars to deliver aid to people who need them urgently.

ELLIOTT: Tan says 24 international rescue teams are either in the region or on the way.

Reporter Ron Moreau is based in Islamabad with Newsweek magazine. He says in that city, rescuers are trying to reach people inside a collapsed 12-story apartment building.

Mr. RON MOREAU (Newsweek): There are probably, they estimate, about a hundred people that are still trapped in the rubble, and it's killed certainly more than a dozen people and injured certainly more than a hundred.

ELLIOTT: I've seen pictures of this building and it looks like there are buildings standing on either side, but the one in the middle is just completely collapsed. Are rescuers able to reach the victims?

Mr. MOREAU: Yes, they have. I mean, there's even a team from the UK that's come. Then there are, you know, construction cranes trying to lift the concrete slab. But it's a very delicate situation because they're afraid by too much lifting of the slabs they could, you know, collapse that pancaked structure even more and perhaps even kill the people who are still trapped in the holes inside this rubble.

ELLIOTT: Have you been able to get out of Islamabad and see what's happening in other parts of the affected area?

Mr. MOREAU: Well, I haven't been able to get to the area that was pretty much the epicenter of the earthquake, Muzaffarabad, which is the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. But I talked to Pakistani officials. Up to 70 percent of the town of Muzaffarabad, which is a town of--I don't know--about 40,000 people, has collapsed. And it's pretty isolated; it's only accessible by helicopter. Most of the roads have been closed by landslides, or the road has just fallen into the Neelum River. And a lot of schoolchildren were killed, also, because children were in school at 9:00 in the morning on Saturday when the earthquake occurred, so hundreds of children, it is believed, died in the--as the schools collapsed right on top of them.

ELLIOTT: How are officials dealing with just getting people help?

Mr. MOREAU: Well, the only help coming right now to the most badly affected areas is by helicopter. And the Pakistanis have taken--using all of their helicopter assets. In fact, they've even had to take helicopters out of the Afghanistan border region--where they're still fighting local tribal militants who are allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda--and they brought those helicopters into play to bring relief supplies into the area and evacuate the wounded out.

And now the Americans are bringing in Chinook helicopters--they'll start arriving tomorrow--to beef up the amount of helicopters that the Pakistanis have. And, of course, the United States has dozens of Chinook twin-rotor helicopters in Afghanistan, so when those helicopters get in, they'll be able to get, you know, more relief in to the people of the area. But there's a great need, the prime minister says, for medicine, blankets and tents especially, because it's--in this mountainous area, it's getting cold already, and a lot of people are being forced to live outside.

ELLIOTT: India, which has also been affected by the earthquake, was the first to pledge to help Pakistan. Can you tell us what the response has been to that offer?

Mr. MOREAU: Well, the Pakistani response is basically, `Thank you very much, but we can take care of our own problems,' and I think that's the way it will continue. I think they'll try and work more closely with their--with other allies, whether in the Muslim world or in the West. And also, the Indians kind of have their own hands full in their own area in Kashmir, in the--just across the border.

ELLIOTT: What about the aftershocks? Are there still aftershocks?

Mr. MOREAU: Oh, yes, indeed. I mean, it's very frightening. I mean, it's frightening enough for people here in Islamabad. There have been certainly more than a dozen, maybe 15 or so aftershocks, and there were even some last night and a couple today. It's bad enough here in the city, but you can imagine the people out in the rural areas. The aftershocks just make them think that the whole thing is going to--their nightmare is going to recur again. And when the aftershocks occur, as the prime minister said today, in that mountainous area, it kicks up great dust clouds which, you know, hamper rescue efforts, also.

ELLIOTT: Where are they taking the wounded when they're able to reach people who've been hurt?

Mr. MOREAU: Well, that's the problem, because most of the hospitals in the most affected area have been partially or completely destroyed. So they're trying to set up some kind of makeshift medical facilities on the spot. But the helicopters that are going into these areas to bring in relief supplies are bringing the wounded out to the cities, whether it's up to Peshawar in the northwest or down to Islamabad. And the hospital facilities that are on the spot, though, are totally overwhelmed.

ELLIOTT: Ron Moreau is a reporter for Newsweek magazine. He's speaking with us from Islamabad.

Thank you very much.

Mr. MOREAU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.