As if quake weren't enough, rain and hail add to misery
Torrential rain and hail slowed relief efforts and added to the misery yesterday near the epicenter of last weekend's massive earthquake...
Los Angeles Times
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — Torrential rain and hail slowed relief efforts and added to the misery yesterday near the epicenter of last weekend's massive earthquake as hundreds of injured survivors continued to stream into makeshift hospitals in devastated cities.
The afternoon storm that rolled across Kashmir's towering Hindu Kush mountains grounded relief flights into the region and threatened to set off new landslides and collapse buildings still standing after Saturday's 7.6-magnitude temblor.
In the northern Pakistani city of Mansehra, the deluge flooded tents that doctors had used to perform surgeries and forced stretcher bearers to slog through soupy mud with injured patients, including several girls in torn school uniforms.
They were among 40 students reported rescued in nearby Balakot after being trapped beneath the rubble of their schools for more than three days. Most of the hungry, dehydrated children will need to have limbs amputated because gangrene had set in while they awaited rescue, doctors said.
The corpses of 60 more students were pulled out of the Shaheen Foundation School Monday night, according to local reports from a once-picturesque holiday town nestled in a mountain valley.
Pakistan's confirmed death toll reached 23,000 yesterday with more than 50,000 others injured, the interior ministry said. United Nations officials estimated more than 2.5 million people were made homeless by the quake.
An additional 1,400 people have been confirmed dead in India, and 4,300 injured. Soldiers in Indian Kashmir found the bodies of 60 road workers yesterday on a bus buried in an avalanche triggered by the quake.
India's army is heading the rescue and relief effort in its portion of Kashmir, and like Kashmiris on the Pakistani side, many complained that help is coming too slowly.
Amir Ali, 35, criticized the territory's civilian authorities after being airlifted to safety by an Indian army helicopter from a village 500 yards from the Pakistan border.
"We have been sleeping in the open for three nights now," he complained. "We immediately need tents and blankets or else our children — most of whom are already injured — will perish in the cold."
Yasin Malik, a separatist leader and chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, said the territory's administration "had completely collapsed, so much so that in some of the mountainous areas, even children have been going without water."
The roads into northern Pakistan's devastated cities, including Mansehra, Balakot and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, were clogged yesterday with hundreds of trucks packed with food, clothing and blankets provided by Pakistani charities.
Eager to help survivors who had been waiting three days for help, many ordinary Pakistanis filled their cars with supplies and headed north. U.S. military helicopters were able to evacuate several survivors from Muzaffarabad yesterday, but the afternoon storm grounded most relief flights.
Thousands of stunned survivors continued to rummage through the ruins of Muzaffarabad or struggled to get their hands on relief supplies being tossed from the back of trucks. Many wore surgical masks or pieces of cloth tied over their noses to mask the stench of decomposing bodies.
The powerful thunderstorm turned daylight into twilight, broken by flashes of lightning, and forced thousands to seek shelter next to unstable buildings.
When the dark clouds burst, the storm lashed the city with heavy rain and pea-size hail. The downpour sent rivulets down mountainsides where huge boulders and jagged rocks were loosened by the quake and its numerous aftershocks.
A building collapsed in the deluge at the Ayub Medical Complex in Abbotobad, a key trauma center, where thousands of survivors are camped out in tents.
In nearby Mansehra, employees at the seriously damaged district hospital scrambled to continue treating patients, more than 4,000 of whom were brought in on Monday alone, Dr. Rajesh Jesrani said.
Most were carried from trucks and ambulances on wood-frame beds, strung with rope, which were hoisted onto the shoulders of stretcher-bearers. They hurried through the muck to deliver the injured to a crowded emergency ward and picked up patients being transferred on cots in open-back trucks to hospitals farther south.
The Mansehra hospital, which treated more than 8,000 people in the first three days after the quake, is equipped only for basic surgeries.
At least six girls were brought to the hospital wearing uniforms from Balakot schools yesterday after they were pulled from the rubble, Jesrani said. His surgical team, one of at least five medical teams working at the hospital, has treated more than 10 rescued students from Balakot, where the quake leveled all but a few buildings.
"They are mostly in shock and unable to speak," he added. "But medically, they are fit."
Los Angeles Times staff writer Shankadeep Choudhury in Srinagar, India, and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.
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