Volcano fears could force 150,000 to flee quake area

The geologists left yesterday to survey the Alai valley after villagers reported what they said could be a volcano, said Maj-Gen Shaukat Sultan. Scientists hope the villagers are mistaken and speculated that aftershocks of the earthquake on 8 October and landslides could be responsible for the reports.

Army helicopters flew over the rugged region of North-West Frontier Province on Monday and found no immediate signs of an eruption. Maj-Gen Sultan said that, if geologists were to find evidence of a volcanic eruption, the 150,000 people who live in the region would have to leave.

About 3.3 million people have already been left homeless by the quake, which killed about 80,000. A huge international relief effort has been mounted but fears remain for vulnerable communities in distant mountain areas with the Himalayan winter closing in.

Aid workers have five weeks to get six months of food supplies into the most remote areas of Pakistan before they are cut off, the UN World Food Programme said. "It must be clear to everybody that many people could die if we do not move more quickly," said Amir Abdulla, a programme official.

He added: "We must have much more funding, much sooner, to gain as much speed as humanly possible in the face of gigantic logistics difficulties."

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