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Quake-Devastated Communities Still Dependent on Airborne Relief

Airborne relief missions to Pakistan's earthquake-hit areas have resumed following bad weather that grounded flights earlier this week. VOA's Benjamin Sand spent the day aboard a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter as it flew into the devastated Pakistani town of Chakothi, where, he reports, thousands of sick and injured people remain desperate for outside aid.

As the weather in Pakistani Kashmir cleared, the U.S. military helicopters involved in the relief operation resumed delivery of medical supplies and evacuated some of the wounded from earthquake-affected areas.

Finally, after more than a week, aid is getting through to Chakothi, a small town on the line of control that divides the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

U.S. soldiers quickly offloaded more than 40 crates of food and medicine before picking up the wounded and heading back to base outside Islamabad.

Major Abdul Ahmed of the Pakistan Army says casualty rates in and around Chakothi may be more than 70 percent and thousands of people there are seriously injured.

"The conditions are very devastating over there. Almost 100 percent [of the] houses have been demolished down to the ground," said Mr. Ahmed.

Officials now say the death toll in Pakistan could top 54,000, more than double the death toll just two days ago.

The 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck parts of northern Pakistan including the Northwest Frontier Province and Kashmir, where most of the deaths occurred.

Officials say thousands more bodies may be discovered when they get to the hundreds of small villages and hamlets that dot the rugged landscape.

The Pakistani military says it will take another three weeks before it can clear the roads leading to isolated communities.

Until then, the people there will have to count on helicopter deliveries to bring them food and medicine and evacuate the wounded.

The Pakistani government wants people to start coming together to form larger communities, like Chakothi, where the choppers can land and establish forward staging areas for emergency aid.

For people too far away, or too sick to reach the staging areas, U.S. Army Sergeant Corey McFadden, a member of the helicopter crew, says all the rescue teams can do is try and airdrop as much food as possible.

"The main plan for us is to just hit as many houses as we can in one day and hope that we can get back up there again," he said. "Just drop and go and come back and drop again."

In addition to food and medicine, U.N. officials say the relief teams need to provide more than two million people with proper shelter before the harsh Himalayan winter sets in.

In Chakothi, residents say, the first snows could come as early as next week.