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Aid Begins to Reach South Asia Quake Survivors

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Heavy rain and hail have slowed some of the relief efforts in Pakistan. Some assistance is getting through to areas devastated by Saturday's earthquake, but impassable roads and a shortage of helicopters have left tens of thousands of people doing without the basics, food and shelter. In just a few minutes we'll hear from an aid agency working in the region. First, NPR's Philip Reeves visited one of the hardest-hit cities. Here's his report from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

(Soundbite of multiple conversations in foreign language)

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

As the evening chill begins to set in, Muhammad Azim(ph) and his four young children prepare for yet another night in the open.

Mr. MUHAMMAD AZIM (Earthquake Survivor): (Through Translator) This is the place where we sleep. This is the small place where we sleep. Last night there was water here and we had to move.

REEVES: They'd been sleeping on a patch of waterlogged grass on the side of a steep, wooded hill that rises above the city of Muzaffarabad. They have no tent and no protection beyond their clothes from the wet and chilly mountain weather.

Mr. AZIM: (Through Translator) We live in great difficulty here. There is nothing for us. There's a sky up on--overhead and below is the land, and where else we can go?

REEVES: A few feet away lie the ruins of their house. Muhammad and his family could take refuge amongst the debris but, he says, that would be dangerous.

Mr. AZIM: (Through Translator) We can't take refuge because of the condition of the house. It is so dilapidated that we fear that it will collapse. So we can't go inside the house and we have no option but to stay here.

REEVES: The millions of people made homeless by the south Asia earthquake have many urgent needs for cutting equipment, for example, for medicine, food and drinking water. But in Muzaffarabad, the first plea on the lips of many is simply for shelter. Some do have tents, but there are many, many others like Muhammad Azim. The winter weather is beginning to creep into the mountains of the Hindu Kush. People here say they need help fast. Muhammad Arias(ph) is also sleeping out in the open these days.

Mr. MUHAMMAD ARIAS (Earthquake Survivor): Our first requirement is tents. All the families are without tents laying under the open sky. We badly needed tents so that we could at least spend the night peacefully.

REEVES: Muhammad Arias says it's hard to overstate the dismal conditions.

Mr. ARIAS: Oh, these are terrible, terrible. People have never experienced such a devastation before. They are just helpless. They are thinking what should they do? How should they manage things?

(Soundbite of jackhammer)

REEVES: No one is sure how many children are buried here at Muzaffarabad's Rizwan Public School, but everyone seems to agree there are many. There is no sign of life. Dressed in blue overalls, an emergency rescue team from Russia is using cutting equipment to try to carve away the wreckage. A crowd is looking on. People here seem eager to vent their feelings. Shaheen Akbow(ph), a tailor, lost his wife and two infant children. His grief is hardening into bitterness directed at the authorities.

Mr. SHAHEEN AKBOW (Earthquake Survivor): Dead bodies are laying there on--over shops. They are dead but no person come there to take them. And destroyed--whole shops are destroyed. Markets are destroyed. The system is totally destroyed.

REEVES: It's unlikely any system could have coped with a catastrophe of such a scale in such remote and difficult conditions. Izram Zaidi(ph) is from the Islamic Relief Organization, one of the many agencies struggling to bring this crisis under control.

Mr. IZRAM ZAIDI (Islamic Relief Organization): Major reason why the government installations are totally collapsed and away from that we were expecting huge relief efforts from the military. We got three or four major military camps, but those were already struck by this disaster. That's why it's for, then, you cannot see any visible relief efforts. So that is the major reason.

(Soundbite of traffic)

REEVES: On a road leading into Muzaffarabad trucks arrive carrying bulldozers and heavy lifting equipment. Aid is getting through, but this is unlikely to lessen the frustration among survivors until they have a safe roof over their heads. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Mansehra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.