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Pakistan Shifts from Rescue to Relief Efforts


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Relief supplies are pouring into northern Pakistan, but many of the more than three million people affected by the huge earthquake there have yet to see any aid. Rescue workers say there may be a few people left alive under the rubble. They're concentrating, however, on the relief effort and helping those left without food, water and shelter. NPR's Philip Reeves has been talking to rescuers and to some of the survivors.

(Soundbite of street noise)

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Sabat Nabthe(ph) has been coming to this place every day since the earthquake. His two young sons are buried here in the wreckage of what was their school. He's sitting on a pile of rubble, head hanging. Sabat knows his boys are dead. He just wants to recover their bodies. He's hoping the Pakistani soldiers slowing chipping away with shovels will eventually find them.

Mr. SABAT NABTHE (Earthquake Survivor): (Through Translator) I need their bodies because the only thing now I can--would see of my sons would be their graves for all the rest of my life.

REEVES: Six days after the quake, the once frantic digging through the rubble is losing momentum. The needs of the survivors are becoming more pressing. Russ Vaughan from the organization British International Rescue and Search Dogs says there may be more survivors under the rubble.

Mr. RUSS VAUGHAN (British International Rescue and Search Dogs): It's difficult to say. Time is definitely running out for them.

REEVES: But Vaughan says it's time to switch the focus away from searching for the few who may be buried alive to concentrate on the vast number of people who have lost everything and now need help.

Mr. VAUGHAN: They need shelter 'cause they have--nobody's living in the houses. They're all living on the streets. They need water. There's no water here. There's no electricity. There's not that much food. They need blankets, clothing probably 'cause, you know, these people have really lost everything and they need the help now. There will be stories two weeks' time that people will be still pulled out of the rubble, but they are few and far between. You know, there's thousands and thousands of people here now that urgently need help.

REEVES: Vaughan's team arrived in Muzaffarabad soon after the quake. So did Willie McMartin, a veteran from another British-based group, International Rescue Corps. He, too, believes it's time to switch attention towards the survivors.

Mr. WILLIE McMARTIN (International Rescue Corps): All the air time that the helicopters are putting in flying in the rescue teams could be bringing aid in now. And there is a point where the saving of these real medical cases now just isn't justified.

REEVES: McMartin's a veteran of more than 20 natural disasters. He says in this case humanitarian aid is unusually late in coming.

Mr. McMARTIN: By this time you would expect to see a lot of aid and such, and it's not happened. What we are seeing is the odd lot, a load of blankets, actually driving down the street and being flung out because it's the only way. If they stop, they're swamped. They cannot cope and the drivers feel in a position that's unsafe. So they simply keep driving. Members in the back throw out the aid to the people and the people pick it up.

REEVES: Amid this chaos there have been some successes. More than 20 people have so far been dug out alive in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad. As their work began to wind down today, international search and rescue workers said that this was an unusually high number for a quake of this magnitude. They included the rescue yesterday of two boys from a collapsed school in an outlying mountain village. Julie Ryan was among a team from International Rescue Corps that helped save them.

Ms. JULIE RYAN (International Rescue Corps): I think it was a good couple of hours by the time we actually got in there, and they were a good 20 feet into the building. We had no particular digging tools as such, so we were just pulling out the stones by our hands and feeding it out on a line outside.

REEVES: Eventually the boys were lifted out.

Ms. RYAN: They were both very shocked, and the first boy recovered very quickly, actually, with some food and some water, and he was OK. The second boy was extremely shocked. He'd obviously laid there with his brother, I believe, at the side of him who had actually died. And he was actually covered in his brother's blood. So he was extremely traumatized.

REEVES: The day before, the veteran McMartin was involved in a similar rescue in a collapsed building in Muzaffarabad.

Mr. McMARTIN: A hole was knocked through the concrete and I dropped a torch and then actually physically stuck my head through the small hole and a hand just came out to my face.

REEVES: The hand belonged to a boy of about 14. When he was eventually pulled out, the boy was bruised but otherwise unhurt.

Mr. McMARTIN: At that exact moment in time, it's one of the greatest feelings on earth. You want to, you know, bay at the moon, shout at the world. It's fantastic. You look round about and you see hundreds of faces who have just lost relatives that you didn't save. So in that split second you go from, you know, an absolute high to a low because you feel them. So it's a roller coaster.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Mansehra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.