In the aftermath: No relief in sight for survivors

Helicopter with NDMA chairman comes under rocket attack: unconfirmed reports.

Azam Khan/Mohammad Zafar/afp September 26, 2013
A young boy sits on his belongings beside his collapsed mud house at Labch area in the earthquake-devastated district of Awaran. PHOTO: AFP


Security concerns impeded search crews and prevented relief workers from reaching thousands of stranded earthquake victims on Thursday amid fears that the death toll had risen higher than the official count of 357.

As quake survivors complained about negligible rescue and relief efforts, there were unconfirmed reports of a National Disaster Management Authority helicopter coming under attack on Thursday.

No rescue efforts were visible even two days after the earthquake, said journalists and locals. But the government struggled to supply relief due to the area’s inaccessibility – and militancy.

The helicopter with Major General Muhammad Saeed Aleem, the NDMA chairman, on board was flying over Awaran district when it was attacked by rockets, though no damage was done and no one was hurt, military officials told AFP.

“Two rockets were fired on the helicopter and the target was missed,” according to a military official in Quetta. “The area is rife with insurgency and has presence of Baluchistan Liberation Front insurgents.” However, NDMA spokesman Brigadier Karman Zia, while talking to The Express Tribune, denied that any such incident took place. It is possible that routine firing took place and people assumed that it was targeting the helicopter, he said. “We also inquired from the pilot and he too was not aware of an attack.”

Spiralling death toll

Jan Mohammad Buleidai, the Balochistan Chief Minister spokesman, claimed that 357 people have been killed so far in the deadly earthquake and more than 500 injured. However, a local journalist, Shabbir Rakhshani, argued that the death toll was at a staggering 450.

At the same time, more than 100,000 people have been rendered homeless and most of the survivors spent another night in the open or under makeshift shelters as response teams still struggle to reach the remote region.

The toll is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble of countless flattened mud-brick homes. Some estimates fear the number of deaths could cross 1,000.

Angry survivors

Dad Shah Qambrani, the Awaran Bar Association secretary-general, said that relief supplies, rescue teams and not a single government official or a member of the security forces had reached the destroyed area.

In Arawan town, around 200 angry survivors demonstrated outside government offices complaining they had not been given food or shelter.

Journalists including the international media talked to The Express Tribune and confirmed that they had not seen any relief supplies, forcing the people to fend for themselves in the crisis, who are living under the open sky, surrounded by debris.

However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told AFP that the government is preparing to send more than 14,000 tents using a C-130 transport plane.

“Presently some 1,000 troops of Pakistan army are available on the ground while army has despatched another unit to the affected areas.”

Search and rescue teams with search dogs and technical equipment have also been sent, he said.

Meanwhile, a local journalist reported that four truckloads of supplies reached the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Awaran, but the supplies were not unloaded or diverted to the worst affected areas. He cited the dearth of required manpower for transportation or unloading as a possible reason.

Army troops from Malir Cantonment are supposed to establish a field hospital, but they have not reached the site yet, he said.

But Provincial PDMA Chief Hafiz Basit insisted that relief operations are in progress in Awaran and the body had dispatched 9,000 tents and 19 truckloads of supplies, including food and medicine. More supplies are being sent to the area from Karachi, he added.

Meanwhile, a high-level meeting, with Chief Secretary Babar Yakoob Fateh Mohammad, reviewed the rescue and relief efforts. Mohammad directed all officials to ensure relief is provided to the survivors with the priority being food and clean water.

Separately, health department officials said that doctors had reached Awaran and the seriously injured people will be shifted to Uthal and Hub for better treatment. Medicine worth over Rs4.5 million had been dispatched to the area, he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2013.


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