Grandmother and daughter saved by British team

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Maha Bibi and her 55-year-old daughter, Khalida Begum, who lived on the first floor of the block, survived for three days without food or water crouched in a tiny pocket of space.

They emerged into the light after a 16-hour recovery effort yesterday. " I'm so sorry to put you through all this trouble," Mrs Begum told her rescuer, John Holland of Rapid-UK, before being taken to hospital.

In the ruins of the north-western town of Balakot, a teenage boy was pulled from the rubble 78 hours after the Kashmir quake. People rushed to give food and water to the boy and kissed him on the head. The area where he was rescued smelt of decomposing corpses.

Although miraculous rescues have taken place up to 10 days after earthquakes, men can only survive for three days without food and water, while women can hold on to life for four days, according to medical experts.

The rescue teams are using hi-tech cameras and lifting gear to search for survivors under piles of concrete, steel and wood. They are helped by an army of volunteers who turn up with anything they can find: pickaxes, shovels and crowbars.

The weather was the main adversary of the rescue effort yesterday. Dozens of military helicopters from the US and Pakistan touched down briefly at Chaklala military airfield, while making sorties to the mountains where 2.5 million homeless survivors still await shelter and medical attention.

But by 1pm, freak thunder showers and hailstorms lashed the region and grounded all flights. Exasperated relief workers were further thwarted as mud and rockslides blocked newly cleared roads and delayed the convoy of supply trucks filled with donated tarpaulins, quilts, and powdered milk.

An emergency flight left the UK bound for Pakistan last night containing 800 tents which Oxfam will use to provide temporary shelter. The Boeing 747, laden with 19,000 blankets, which will be distributed by the Muslim charity Islamic Relief, was organised by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

Shaista Aziz, Oxfam's aid worker in Muzaffarabad, said: "The situation here is desperate, with thousands of people without shelter. Pregnant women are forced to sleep in the open." She said aid was being distributed in situ, to groups of four or five families. She added: "By distributing aid to the people in their villages we aim to avoid a movement of people into camps where disease could spread."

Fadela Chaib, spokeswoman for the UN's World Health Organisation said: " Measles could potentially become a serious problem. We fear that if people huddle closely together in temporary shelters and crowded conditions, more cases could occur." Measles, potentially deadly for children, is endemic in the region. Only 60 per cent of children are protected; 90 per cent coverage is needed to prevent an epidemic, the WHO said.