One by one, their cries stopped and 1,500 students died

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The Independent Online

Yesterday, the last of the teenagers trapped inside fell silent. They are all dead now.

The death toll from Saturday's earthquake stands at 23,000, but it is still rising and could be as high as 40,000. All over Pakistan, people are dying as the relief effort fails to get through. Aid may now be arriving in Muzaffarabad, where the world's cameras are, but in the rest of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, there is no sign of it. The aid effort was further hampered yesterday by torrential rains that grounded helicopters and churned up the damaged roads into a sea of mud.

At the sixth-form college, the townspeople had laid the exercise books and diaries they found in the rubble out reverentially alongside the ruins, a sort of makeshift memorial. An exercise book bore the name Anees Shah, and had the notes from his English class, written in halting, unfamiliar Western script. "Language: the way we express our thoughts", it read. It was all that was left of the students, all their families had left to grieve over.

The people had gathered around a body they had pulled from the ruins. The face was turning black as it decomposed. "We don't know who he is or where he's from," said Syed Hassan Ali, an English teacher and one of the few survivors from the college. "No one recognises him."

Although nobody knew who he was, they gathered around the body, almost as a substitute for the bodies of their own loved ones that they could not recover from the ruins. "No one was helping us, we had only God," shouted one man, then broke down in tears. The earthquake struck just as the first class of the day was beginning.

For the students, it is too late, but for the survivors the situation is still desperate. Most have no shelter. There are not enough tents to go round, and many are forced to sleep in the open, in the rain, in the cold, in streets and fields that have turned into mud. "The Pakistani government has abandoned us," said Azhar Mushtaq Kasher. "They say that Kashmir is part of Pakistan, but when we are in need they are doing nothing for us."

The anger against the Pakistani government is palpable. "The army came for two hours, then they went away again," said Mr Ali. "They are only interested in Islamabad, they are not interested in us," said Mr Kasher. The absence of basic help is killing people. Mashfaq Qamar said that his friend had died of a leg injury. "He was crying out for water, but there was none to give him," he said.

In the absence of government relief, ordinary people have flocked to the worst-hit areas, bringing food and medicine, blankets and shovels to dig for survivors. Mr Kasher and Mr Qamar come from a village on the ceasefire line with India. They have spent many long nights under fire as the Indian and Pakistani armies shelled each other.

They were not the only people streaming into Bagh yesterday. All day long they came down from the mountainsides, villagers abandoning the ruins of their homes. For four days they had waited for help to arrive. It never came. Yesterday, they ran out of food, and set off for the towns.

Dr Naim Tariq helped carry his cousin down out of the mountains on a stretcher; her leg is broken and she cannot walk. The journey took them six hours through torrential rain that broke up the road surface in the valley below. "What else could we do?" said Dr Tariq. "The entire village is gone. There is no shelter, we have been sleeping in the open for four days. There is no food, no water, no medical help. No one has come to help us."

The relief effort has been hampered by the geography: Kashmir is a maze of soaring mountains and narrow valleys. But the people of Bagh complained that their town was so inaccessible because of years of neglect by the Pakistani government. "Look around. Can you believe we are only 100 miles from the capital city of Pakistan?" asked Mr Ali. Kashmir may be only 100 miles from Islamabad, but the journey takes six hours on a hopelessly rutted narrow road across the mountains. "Look at the private houses still standing," said Mr Ali. Many were, though most were so badly damaged they were uninhabitable. "But this college just collapsed completely. The government buildings are the worst-built here."

A great tide of resentment at the failure of government help to arrive is building up in Pakistani Kashmir. It is different from the provincial capital, Muzaffarabad. There, immigrants from other parts of Pakistan have made the city mixed ethnically. Here, almost everyone is Kashmiri, and they feel abandoned.

As night fell, the anger took on a sinister tone. On a lonely mountain stretch of the road back to Islamabad, a man loomed out of the darkness brandishing a revolver. It was time to retreat to the safety of Islamabad. But the hundreds sleeping in the open in Bagh did not have that luxury.

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