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Pakistani Relief Efforts Stalled in Hardest Hit Areas


Six days after last Saturday's deadly earthquake in Pakistan, relief efforts remain stalled in some of the hardest-hit areas. VOA's Benjamin Sand visited the town of Balakot, about 15 kilometers from the quake's epicenter, where he says the survivors are still desperate for emergency assistance.

U.N. officials say aid workers are in a race against time to save thousands of earthquake victims stranded in remote mountain villages near the epicenter.

Conditions in Balakot suggest they are losing, and losing badly.

Traffic out of town is at a standstill. This ambulance has been stuck for nearly five minutes.

Aid workers say part of the problem is the thousands of volunteers who are driving here hoping to lend a hand.

Unfortunately, their good intentions are having dire consequences, clogging roads and keeping emergency supplies and professional rescue teams from reaching Balakot.

Relief worker Hamid Mehmood says, someone with authority needs to step in and impose some sort of order over the chaos.

"I don't know where they are. For the last five days, I did not see a single official come out and talk to people," said Mr. Mehmood.

Nearly 90 percent of this town was leveled by the earthquake.

In places, it is impossible to distinguish individual houses. All you can see is one enormous pile of concrete rubble stretching on for hundreds of meters.

Where the local school once stood, a Jordanian rescue team is clearing debris around a body.

More than 350 children died here. Just now, workers say, they have found one of their teachers.

The air here is thick with the smell of decomposing bodies, and most people wear surgical masks as they walk through town.

Aid agencies say the priority now is providing winterized tents for the thousands of people left without homes.

The temperatures here are already approaching freezing at night and local residents say it will start snowing in just a few weeks.

Dildar Fani, who lost more than 300 members of his extended family this week, says time is running out for those who survived.

"There is no shelter," he said. "Go with me and see all the people with family, with children … these people will die!"

He says entire villages just outside Balakot still have not received any aid at all. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are sick, starving and lack even the most basic shelter.

And weather experts are now predicting severe thunderstorms, which in these towns high in the Himalayan mountains, could potentially bring the season's first snow.

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