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Some Who Survived Kashmir Quake Have Die

November 28, 2005

BAGH, Pakistan (AP) _ An infant died Monday of pneumonia and a middle-aged man died of hypothermia, the first confirmed victims of what officials fear will be a new disaster for 3.5 million Pakistanis who survived last month’s earthquake but lost their homes.

Troops and aid workers are building shelters as fast as they can for the neediest in the Himalayan highlands. But with heavy rain and a fresh blanket of snow in the last two days heralding the onset of the region’s harsh winter, it isn’t fast enough for those left out in the cold since the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed more than 87,000 people.

``If we don’t get people into shelters, they will die. It’s as simple as that,″ said Air Commodore Andrew Walton, commander of the NATO disaster response team in Pakistan.

``That’s the second disaster that’s waiting to happen if we in the international community don’t do something about it,″ he said at a NATO field hospital in Bagh, a town in Pakistan’s part of disputed Kashmir.

A middle-aged man died at the hospital early Monday, a day after he was brought in with hypothermia, said Lt. Col. Johan De Graaf, the facility’s senior medical officer.

Three-month-old Waqar Mukhtar died of pneumonia hours after he was brought in from nearby Neelum Valley, said Abdul Hamid, a doctor at a hospital in the regional capital, Muzaffarabad.

More than 100 people were brought to hospitals in the region with hypothermia and respiratory diseases. That does not include the hundreds of women, children and the elderly already suffering from a variety of ailments even before the first cold snap.

The bad weather also blocked roads and grounded helicopters bringing aid to remote areas. The troops relied on vehicles where possible, and mules in other places.

Walton said it was critical to get more shelter materials and mobile medical teams quickly to high-altitude areas where the weather is worst.

Pakistan’s army said as many as 14 battalions of military engineers are working with volunteers and aid workers in 10-man teams to build shelters of about 200 square feet, with priority given to families who have no male member in the home and are living above 5,000 feet. It said 18,269 shelters have been completed, with another 4,750 under construction.

Hospitals throughout the quake zone each reported dozens of people, mostly children and the elderly, seeking treatment. The situation may be worse in remote areas, where landslides triggered by the precipitation have blocked main roads.

Parveen Ejaz, 26, stood in line outside the NATO hospital with her two sons and 2-year-old daughter, all suffering from coughs and colds that she blamed on the weather.

``I’m really worried about the winter because I lost my house and we are living in tents,″ she said as she held daughter, Nayyab.

The season’s first snow fell on mountains near Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, and elsewhere late Saturday. Rain and snow continued Monday. Hundreds, including women, children and the elderly, were already suffering from respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, scabies, tetanus and other ailments, even before the first cold snap.

Army spokesman Maj. Farooq Nasir said troops halted traffic on the main Neelum Valley road ``to avoid loss of life″ after overnight rain and snow.

Engineers were working to clear the road, which links Muzaffarabad with scores of villages and towns and leads to the Line of Control _ the heavily militarized frontier that divides Kashmir between nuclear-rivals Pakistan and India.

Nasir said no Pakistan army helicopters would fly in the quake zone Monday because of clouds and rain. Troops used land vehicles and mules to haul supplies to the needy.

The heavy rains created a near-quagmire in the town of Arja at the camp for a NATO engineering battalion working to clear roads, repair schools and hospitals, and get aid to quake survivors at high altitudes.

``It will slow us down, but we will not stop working,″ battalion spokesman Lt. Col. Pedro Vallespin said as troops built a boardwalk over the deep mud surrounding his work tent.

``Just think, if you’re working up there, what it’s like with the mud and the landslides,″ he said, gesturing at the surrounding hills.

A magnitude 4.7 quake was felt Monday in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta, but there was no word of damage or casualties, said meteorologist Mohammed Jamil. He said the quake was centered about 180 miles northeast of Quetta, but gave no further details.

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Associated Press reporter Zarar Khan contributed to this report from Muzaffarabad, Pakistan.

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