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Mass graves fill up holes left by homes
City of 150,000 loses toll track

Muzaffarabad, Oct. 13: The once bustling city has turned into a graveyard.

Swallowed by the unforgiving earth and then spat out with disdain, bodies lie rotting in the open. The stench is unbearable. At places, mass graves have replaced homes that till a few days ago trilled with the laughter of children and the gruff baritone of adult voices.

Nearly 12,000 people have died in the capital of Pakistan Kashmir since the earth rumbled and split open on Saturday morning. The count is not yet complete.

Rashid Naeem, a police official, said at least 30 per cent of Muzaffarabad’s 150,000 residents may have already died. Social worker Zafar Iqbal believes the toll could be close to 100,000.

“Kashmir has turned into a graveyard. We are digging either to pull out bodies or bury them,” the region’s prime minister, Sikander Hayat Khan, told reporters outside a tent where he has been staying since the calamity struck.

“Bodies are lying everywhere and we cannot compile them. So it is difficult to say how many people have been killed,” said a military doctor at the city’s sports stadium, which has been turned into an open-air hospital.

“We are still struggling to get people from under the debris and also have to reach out to people in remote villages,” Rawalpindi Corps commander General Sallahuddin Satti said at Gojra Stadium in Muzaffarabad, on the right bank of the Neelum.

Satti, who along with thousands of armymen have been working round the clock to rescue trapped survivors, said the scale of the tragedy is “simply enormous”.

Yesterday, heavy rain stalled relief operations. As the storm and the clouds moved south, no flights could take off from Islamabad.

Counting the dead might be difficult, but what is beyond doubt is the impact of the quake on the infrastructure ' roads, water and power supply lines and telecommunications.

The city’s only health facility, the 400-bed Combined Military Hospital, was among the first to come crashing down, killing over 200 patients.

“I have found the body of my wife but my three children are still under the debris,” said Muhammad Jalil, tears rolling down his cheeks. Those who found the bodies of their loved ones had no choice but to bury them in mass graves.

Rescue workers have had to face another kind of fury: of frustrated residents, desperate for food and medicine. “They start smashing windows of relief vehicles and take away goods the moment they arrive,” said a witness.

Brawls broke out at several places. In one locality, a couple of armymen were beaten up by hungry survivors.

Major General Shaukat Sultan said several tons of relief goods and medicines are being flown to affected areas. “But this is a disaster of enormous scale and we have to understand that. The reality is we have not reached thousands who are in the far-flung areas.”

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