Pakistan calls off search for earthquake survivors

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The Independent Online

Officials said some utilities were restored in Muzaffarabad, the capital of the region hardest hit by the massive quake - a sign that recovery efforts were paying off.

"The search and rescue operation is ended and from now the search and recovery operation is being launched, as there is a very slim chance of finding any survivors in the rubble now," said Maj. Farooq Nasir.

Since daybreak, helicopters flew in and out of the Neelum sports stadium in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, where doctors and nurses had set up a temporary hospital. The helicopters carried out injured people from remote villages and ferried aid workers out to the isolated regions.

"This is a massive operation, we are not even counting how many flights are being made," Nasir said.

Last Saturday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake wiped out entire villages in Pakistan's portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and is believed to have killed more than 35,000. Tens of thousands of others were injured, and 2.3 million people were left homeless.

UN spokesman Winston Chang said Pakistani authorities made their decision to focus on relief efforts after consulting with international agencies.

"We are all of the view that there is a less than 1 per cent chance of survival on the seventh day," he said.

Nasir said electricity had been restored to parts of Muzaffarabad and that it would be restored in other areas as they were cleared and made safe from electrocution. Authorities were also working to fix grid stations to return power to outlying villages.

Water has also been restored to Muzaffarabad, he said.

Teams were fanning out to dig through the rubble in the capital, focusing on the city instead of the villages because the mud huts used in the remote areas had largely been cleared by locals, Nasir said.

"All the efforts for the villages are now being put on providing relief goods," he said.