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Pakistan sharply increases earthquake toll

Associated Press | November 2, 2005
By Aamir Ashraf

The Pakistani government on Wednesday dramatically increased the official death toll from the devastating earthquake that hit the north of the country last month to 73,276 and said it could rise further.

Federal Relief Commissioner Major-General Farooq Ahmed Khan told a news conference the sharp rise from a figure of 57,600 given a day earlier could be related to concerted efforts to clear up debris since the October 8 disaster.

"Unfortunately the death toll has risen to 73,276 and the number of injured is over 69,000," he said. "There is a likelihood of a further increase."

Another 1,300 people have been confirmed killed in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

Khan said those listed as injured were seriously hurt.

Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province bore the brunt of the 7.6 magnitude quake.

It was the strongest to hit South Asia in 100 years and left more than three million people in need of emergency shelter with a bitter Himalayan winter approaching.

Khan said the government had received around $2 billion in pledges for the massive task of reconstruction, still way short of the government estimated cost of more than $5 billion.

The United Nations, heading a massive international relief effort, says donors have failed to provide sufficient funds for emergency aid work and warns that as many people who died in the quake could perish in the winter unless help reaches them fast.

HELICOPTERS BACK IN AIR

The U.S. military resumed helicopter relief flights in the earthquake zone on Wednesday, but said it steered clear of an area where it believes a rocket grenade was fired at one of its aircraft a day earlier.

The Pakistani army called Tuesday's incident close to Chakothi, a town near the border with Indian Kashmir, a misunderstanding caused by a U.S. helicopter crew mistaking engineers blasting a damaged road as attackers.

But Commander Nick Balice, a spokesman for the U.S. military's Disaster Assistance Center in Pakistan, said the helicopter crew, some of whom had served with the U.S. forces fighting Islamic militants in Afghanistan, were familiar with rocket propelled grenade fire.

"Based on the reports we had from crew members that's what we think it was," he said. "We are staying a safe distance away from that area as we continue to investigate the incident."

The U.S. Central Command said the CH-47 Chinook helicopter was not hit and landed safely. It has not said who it believes fired the rocket, but the area is one in which militant groups fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir operate.

Because many roads are blocked by landslides, helicopters have been vital to the relief effort.

The United States has 24 helicopters taking part in the operation, which includes others from several countries, including Britain and Japan, as well as some chartered by the United Nations and the Red Cross.

While militants in Kashmir are mainly focused on fighting Indian forces on the other side of Kashmir, some have links with al Qaeda and share a similar, strongly anti-American world view.

They bitterly oppose the U.S. military presence in neighboring Afghanistan and Islamists in the Pakistani parliament have expressed opposition to U.S. and NATO troops taking part in the relief operation.

Pakistan's army spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said the contribution of foreign countries was greatly appreciated and every effort was being made to ensure their safety.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Zeeshan Haider and Suzanna Koster)


Last modified November 4, 2005




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