Snow, cold descend upon quake victims
Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 10:13 p.m.
CHICKAR, Pakistan - The terraced paths through this mountain town are slick with ice, tents crammed with families have collapsed under the weight of snow and a truck mired in a muddy landslide blocked the main road into town. And winter has just barely begun.
Camped on a steep hillside, the five members of the Butt family are surviving after the loss of their patriarch. Their "tent" is a tarp propped up by branches and they say they spend their nights shivering, with just a single blanket each.
Three months after a quake killed more than 80,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless, families across Pakistan-controlled Kashmir are coping with winter's first brush in the Himalayan foothills.
Winter will hit in full force later this month, but is already taking a toll. Health officials say cold-related illnesses are on the rise, but insist the situation hasn't yet become alarming.
For now, the weather has improved. The sun shined Thursday in Chickar, about 30 miles northeast of Muzaffarabad, where residents say some 700 people died in the quake. Water from melting snow dripped from rooftops and flowed down paths through the town of 6,000, which is draped across several hillsides at an elevation of about 5,100 feet.
There were signs of normalcy. The market set up near the rubble of buildings that slid off a hilltop when the Oct. 8 temblor hit was bustling with activity - with a bounty of spices and baked goods for sale. And preparations were under way for a wedding, one of about 30 that locals say have taken place since the quake.
Getting into the town was complicated by a truck stuck in mud from a landslide caused by this week's rain and snow. Residents placed dry straw under its back wheels to get traction, while others pulled on a rope from the front - all to no avail.
By mid-afternoon Thursday, the truck was freed after several vans were used to tow it.
But residents said they had lost electricity for four days since the bad weather struck, and many tents collapsed under the snow - including one belonging to the family of Muhammad Younas, 15, who was staying with four relatives Sunday night when their tarp tumbled down. No one was injured, and they found shelter with other relatives.
Next to their collapsed tent stood a bare wooden frame intended to be a weatherproof home to help the family through the winter - but amid the snow, it stood without metal siding.
Similar uncompleted shelters could be seen across the town, and residents complained freely about what they said was a lack of aid.
Azher Bukhari, 35, a shopkeeper whose home and business were destroyed, was walking the snowy paths wearing sandals - which he said was a form of protest against the Pakistani army's failure to provide aid.
"The government isn't paying attention to this area," Bukhari said. The military has given out more than 50,000 shelters in Kashmir areas that lie above 5,000 feet, said Maj. Farooq Nasir, an army spokesman in Muzaffarabad. Families where the men have died will also get help assembling the temporary structures, he said.
But families where men survived are required to build their own shelters with the materials provided, a measure Nasir said was aimed at reducing the growing culture of dependency among the quake victims.
Among those yet to receive shelter were the Butt family - a mother, three daughters and a son. They were camped on a hillside near their former home, which collapsed on top of the family's 50-year-old patriarch. His body was recovered the day after the earthquake.
The family huddled inside a dark makeshift shelter provided by former neighbors, with just a thin sheet covering the ground beneath them.
The mother, Mehrfazoon, 45, said she had gone to the nearby military camp to receive relief supplies and spent a day waiting in vain.
"We were given nothing," said a daughter, Nayab, 13. "We are living from hand to mouth."
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