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Pakistani Quake Survivors Search Rubble For Food, Wait For Help

An injured Pakistani woman is surrounded by her children at a makeshift hospital in the earthquake-devastated Awaran district of Balochistan Province.
An injured Pakistani woman is surrounded by her children at a makeshift hospital in the earthquake-devastated Awaran district of Balochistan Province.
Miral, a local government employee in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province, was in his office when he felt his building riding the waves of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake as if it were a boat on a stormy sea.

Built from reinforced concrete for district administrators in Arawan, it is one of the stronger structures in the impoverished region and was able to withstand the September 24 quake.

Miral rushed outside after the temblor passed, looking anxiously across a flat stretch of desert toward his home in the nearby village of Balathi. Instead of the mud-brick houses that had been built there by his relatives and neighbors, he could see only rising clouds of dust and smoke.

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Running to his village, Miral found stunned survivors covered in dust and limping around in the rubble. Their village was one of many in the Awaran district that was almost completely leveled by the quake.

Miral spoke with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal by satellite phone late September 25 as Balathi's homeless survivors were beginning their second night outside under the open sky.

"My nephew [and uncle were] killed and my house was completely destroyed," Miral said. "We can't even find a piece of plastic for our children to sit on. There is nothing left. We are sitting in the darkness with no food, water, or any other facilities."

Desperate For Food, Water

Balochistan is the largest and least populated province of Pakistan. Even in the best of times, the impoverished residents of remote districts like Awaran struggle to eke out a living.

Around Balathi, few water wells have been dug into the sandy soil. Instead, water is collected when it rains and stored for later use in cisterns and reservoirs.

There also are few medical facilities. The hospitals and clinics that do exist in the area often lack adequate stocks of medical supplies. There also is a shortage of qualified doctors and medical workers.

Muhammad Riaz, one of Miral's neighbors, said that about 15 people were crushed by collapsing buildings in Balathi. With another 50 people seriously injured in the village and other survivors becoming desperately hungry, Riaz worries that the death toll there will rise.

"There is no water and there is no food. There is little that can be done," Riaz said. "The shops have been destroyed. The houses have also been destroyed. People don't have money."

An earthquake survivor walks past the rubble of a mud-brick house in Awaran district.
An earthquake survivor walks past the rubble of a mud-brick house in Awaran district.
By September 26, with daytime temperatures soaring, the situation for Balochistan's quake survivors was rapidly deteriorating. Having recovered many of the dead from beneath collapsed walls, some survivors were combing through the rubble where shops and homes once stood, hoping to find food or bottled water.

Shabbir Ahmad, a local journalist in the Awaran district, has traveled since the quake to other remote areas such as Gishkor, Malar, and Bazdad. Ahmad said the survivors he met were all in the same desperate situation -- and still waiting for relief aid to reach them.

Ahmad also said that local health clinics and hospitals have been reduced to "nothing." The main district hospital in Awaran had only two doctors on duty the night after the quake.

Ahmad Hussain, a professor at Awaran College, said local groups were rushing to provide aid to survivors, but that many residents remained without help.

"There is a lot of destruction in the different villages. The mud houses have caved in," Hussain said. "And both local and governmental organizations are busy with relief. But the people have yet to get suitable assistance. The people are struggling to get water and food."

Government Response

Meanwhile, about 100 protesters gathered around the district office in the town of Arawan to call attention to the plight of survivors in nearby villages.

Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority says it is establishing a field hospital in Awaran and has sent out additional teams of doctors and paramedics to try to cope with the disaster.

The government disaster agency says it has sent 5,000 tents to Balochistan from its strategic reserves in Karachi. It says it also has "mobilized its resources" to provide 7,000 food aid packages, each weighing 53 kilograms, to survivors in the stricken districts of Awaran and Kech.

The government is also in the process of setting up forward operating bases in the towns of Khuzdar and Bela to help distribute aid and provide logistical support for relief operations.

An Awaran man drinks tea as he sits in what remains of his house.
An Awaran man drinks tea as he sits in what remains of his house.
But government attempts to deliver relief aid to some far-flung villages are being complicated by the presence of Baloch separatist rebels who are active across Balochistan Province.

On September 26, separatist militants reportedly fired two rockets at one government relief helicopter that was trying to deliver food packages, narrowly missing it.

Pakistan's military, meanwhile, is consulting satellite imagery and photographs taken from aircraft to try to assess the extent of the damage across a swathe of land that could stretch hundreds of kilometers across.

By midday on September 26, the official death toll from the quake stood at 348, with hundreds more injured and up to 300,000 people left homeless or otherwise affected by the disaster.

Authorities say the death toll is likely to rise as reports from more remote villages are collected and as the humanitarian crisis for survivors continues.

Written by Ron Synovitz, based on reporting by Majeed Babar and Gul Ayaz of RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

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