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Help Continues From Volunteers In Kashmir And Across India to Quake Victims


As many as 35,000 people have been killed in South Asia as a result of last weeks earthquake, centered around the city of Muzaffarbad in Pakistani-held Kashmir. The tremors were also felt across the de-facto border, in Indian-administered part of the region. VOAs Patricia Nunan was on the Indian side, and brings us a look at relief efforts and the question of whether the earthquake may cause political tremors as well.

It’s a short climb down to the remains of Maksud Husseins home. Out on an errand when the earthquake struck, Hussein raced home and managed to pull three of his children from the wreckage. But he could not save the life of his 18-month-old son.

Hussein's tragedy then quickly multiplied. Of the 24 people killed in the village of Sirai, 19 were members of Hussein's extended family.

Assistance has slowly begun to reach Sirai and other villages in the hills of Indian-held Kashmir. But it’s done little to ease Hussein's grief, or his concerns about the future. Mr. Hussein says, "We've suffered so much it's going to take 50 years to get back what we had. But right away we're going to need shelter."

The tragedy has brought an outpouring of help from volunteers in Kashmir and across India here distributing donated food and clothes. Little is left to waste.

But for many, like volunteer Zafar Iqbal, there is growing anger that the government could be doing more. "We've been told by so many survivors that no government official has contacted them and no one's been given any help."

Concern is highest for those living beyond here past which no aid convoy has been able to reach. There are multiple landslides to be cleared, a task that these workers estimate could still take days.

Three days after the quake, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toured the devastated areas by helicopter. He not only promised to rebuild the roughly two-thirds of Kashmir under Indian administration, but he also offered assistance to India's long-standing rival, Pakistan for rescue operations in its portion of Kashmir, where the earthquake was most severe.

Pakistan accepted the offer; which comes amid moves by both powers to improve relations despite their conflicting claims to the whole of Kashmir.

It's the second time this year Mr. Singh has been to Kashmir. In April, he launched a historic new bus route for the first time linking the two Kashmirs for the first time since the struggle for control of the region began in 1947.

The bi-monthly bus is meant to reunite families divided by politics. But even that has been torn asunder by the earthquake.

Sayed Shabir Hussein and Mohammed Azam both have family who took the bus to the Pakistani city of Muzaffarabad days before the earthquake struck. Neither has heard from them since.

Mr. Azam says the only way to end the crisis is through further cooperation with Pakistan. "We need the bus to go every week, we need to fix phones links, lift restrictions to go across the border, and to get relief to everyone who needs it."

He like many others now hope that if India and Pakistan share the burden of responding to the earthquake, then perhaps some good may come of the tragedy.

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