your connection to The Boston Globe

Pakistan earthquake death toll rises to 79,000

Leader promises housing for homeless

BALAKOT, Pakistan -- Pakistan's death toll soared to 79,000 yesterday from South Asia's earthquake after a survey of one of the two hardest-hit Pakistani regions -- making it one of the deadliest quakes in modern times.

More aftershocks rattled the region, sending up huge clouds of dust from steep-sided mountain valleys where villages lie in pieces. During a helicopter tour of the ruins, the president, General Pervez Musharraf, promised new, quake-ready houses for the homeless.

In remote mountains, a steady flow of injured villagers continued to seek medical attention. Many had infected wounds, untreated since the Oct. 8 temblor, and had to rely on relatives to carry them for hours on foot to makeshift clinics.

Sixty helicopters were dropping relief supplies, and mule trains were pushing into areas where no helicopters can land.

''Many people out there, we are not going to get to in time," said Rob Holden, the UN disaster coordinator in Pakistan's part of Kashmir. ''Some people who have injuries don't have a chance of survival."

Eleven days after the 7.6-magnitude quake, the full scale of the disaster is more apparent. A helicopter trip through the Neelum and Kaghan valleys showed flattened homes on mountainsides and roads blocked by boulders, trees, and earth. Moving only on foot, people were building new paths over landslides.

The central government updated its death toll to 47,700, but regional authorities gave much higher figures, based on information trickling in from outlying areas and as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Since the early days of the disaster, the central government death tally has lagged behind that of local authorities, although federal officials have said privately they expect the toll to rise dramatically.

Citing reports from local authorities and hospital officials, the government of North West Frontier Province said 37,958 people had died there and the toll was likely to rise. The prime minister in Pakistani-held Kashmir said at least 40,000 people died in that neighboring region. India has reported 1,360 deaths in the part of Kashmir that it controls.

Those tallies would push the death toll to 79,318 from the quake. That figure was in line with an estimate yesterday from a senior army official that 75,000 to 80,000 people had died across Pakistan.

Aid workers fear casualties could rise even further as communities without adequate food, shelter, or health care will soon face the harsh Himalayan winter.

However, the death toll in Pakistan is unlikely to come close to December's magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami that killed 176,000 people -- most of them in Indonesia -- or a magnitude 8.2 temblor that killed at least 240,000 in Tangshan, China, in 1976.

Hundreds of aftershocks are still rattling the South Asian quake zone, frightening the many homeless who are camping by ruined homes.

On a tour near the quake-hit town of Balakot, Musharraf promised to build quake-proof homes for the homeless -- drawing applause from about 200 villagers at a tented settlement.

Carrying a swagger stick and wearing a baseball cap, Musharraf also said he would be willing to let Kashmiri civilians drive across the militarized border from India to help their brethren on the Pakistan side rebuild.

''If they want to assist in the reconstruction effort and in [distributing] relief goods, yes, I will allow it. . . . We would like to encourage it," he said.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives