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Pakistan Hardest Hit by Earthquake


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

In some of the worst-hit parts of South Asia, people are sleeping in tents, and wounded people have been left in the streets after a devastating earthquake. Entire towns and villages were flattened by this quake or buried in the landslides that followed. Pakistan's president, Pervaiz Musharraf, is asking for international help.

President PERVAIZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): I appeal to you to donate maximum in the president's earthquake relief fund financially. I hope that you realize this hour of crisis to your nation.

INSKEEP: Authorities believe the death toll has surpassed 20,000. The United Nations says two and a half million people are homeless. So far the greatest number of casualties has been reported in Pakistan, but reports are just beginning to come in about the scale of the disaster across the frontier in India. Time magazine's Alex Perry is in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, where only 600 deaths are confirmed so far.

ALEX PERRY reporting:

We're expecting the death toll to rise significantly on this side of the border. The Indian government have been very cautious with its figures so far, not least because for them, this is the country's prime security zone, and there's a question about whether they may have lost a number of soldiers and had their defenses impacted severely by this earthquake. As opposed to the Pakistani side, where the government is appealing for aid and coming out very quickly with estimates of tens of thousands of people dead, on the Indian side, things are very cautious.

INSKEEP: Have you been able to visit any of the devastated areas at all?

PERRY: Yeah. I visited Uri yesterday, which is the last town at the end of the road. Now that is--I suppose there may be 1,000 houses there. There's not one left undamaged, and most of them are a pile of rubble on the floor. Aid is reaching there, but not a lot. It's in the hands of local administrations, the police and the army. But as I say, the army have a dual role. And their prime concern still remains securing the border and security. In fact, they say that yesterday morning, there were eight Islamic militants that came over to join the insurgency in Indian Kashmir that they killed on the border. So that remains their prime concern, which obviously impacts on the relief effort.

INSKEEP: Have you heard any evidence from along this heavily militarized line of control, evidence that soldiers on one side have tried to take advantage of the momentary weakness of the other side because of the earthquake?

PERRY: I don't think there's any questions of either the Indian soldiers or the Pakistani soldiers trying to take advantage. For both countries this is a time of national tragedy, and not least, they're trying to come to grips with the fact that they need to rescue their own comrades. But there are reports of militants perhaps using this situation to their advantage, although so far, those infiltrations seem to have been stopped.

INSKEEP: Mr. Perry, this is an area where earthquakes can be expected, and I suppose people will ask, given that it's not unexpected, why so many buildings would be built so poorly that nearly all of them in a particular village would collapse?

PERRY: I'm afraid that's just the standard of the way things are done. You know that India's not a rich country. This is an area that's been--that's had an insurgency for 16 years. There's not a hell of a lot of money around, and people do what they can and build what they can. The foundations, for instance, that you find here are not going to be something that would get passed by a Western government inspector. But at the moment, most people are just looking for shelter. There's just thousands of people, hundreds of people, I'd say, who are too scared to return to their homes, which now have, you know, big cracks in the wall or are missing a wall or are missing a roof. And there's been countless aftershocks. So people are living out in the open.

INSKEEP: What's the weather like this time of the year?

PERRY: It is autumn at the moment in Kashmir, and immediately after the quake there was heavy rains which compounded the landslide problem. There's many, many roads that have been cut off and that only added to the problems. Since then, it's been bright and clear, blue skies. The problem is the coming weather. Within a few weeks, we're going to be into the start of winter here, and winter in Kashmir is very cold indeed. I mean, this is the Himalayas, so unless these people find solid shelter within the next six weeks, two months, things are going to get very, very grim indeed.

INSKEEP: We've been speaking with Alex Perry, the Kashmir bureau chief for Time magazine. Thanks very much.

PERRY: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.