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Winter at door, Valley rises out of ruins

Uri, Oct. 16: Their spirits may be down, but they are not devastated.

As a relief-bearing helicopter whirrs through dangerous gorges and cliffs in fleeting rain and sometimes gale, quake-hit Kashmir flickers back to life.

“We have lost parents, wives and children. But life has to continue. We cannot sit here waiting for aid to arrive. With winter right at our doorsteps, we will have to begin taking care of ourselves or perish like the others in the cold,” said Akbar in Uravan, as he helped pull out a tent from the copter that touched down for a few minutes before taking off again in a cloud of dust for another quake-hit village.

Janaab, zal-zala to phir ayega, magar zindagi chalti rahegi (Sir, the quake will strike again, but life will go on).”

Once a bustling village, Uravan is a desolate heap of debris. And the huts that are still standing are too dangerous to live in. The bodies of 70 villagers have been buried and many are still believed to be trapped in the rubble.

“Some of those who had disappeared after the quake have returned. Many have not. They are there,” muttered 70-year-old Fatima Begum, her trembling finger pointing towards a mound where her brother’s home stood before the quake. “You cannot mourn your dead for ever.”

Fatima was among the first to ask the villagers to get back to work and try to rebuild their lives. “It would keep us occupied. We know those who have died will never return. The best tribute to them would be to carry on with our lives. Aid will come but before that we must learn to cope with the disaster,” she said.

Tents are scarce, so women and children use them first. “We sleep in groups for a few hours. When we sleep, the elders are awake and when they sleep we keep a watch. If it rains heavily, we add plastic sheets that were air-dropped some days ago,” said seven-year-old Naveed.

The never-say-die spirit is flowing across villages. “We cannot live on aid for ever. We have to do something to eke out a living. Yes, we need help in the beginning. But not for ever,” said Sarfaraz.

Vegetable vendors are back in business. “The vegetables have started arriving from nearby villages. People are also coming to sell and purchase them. It is a good sign,” said Riyaz.

In Garkote, Hussain is busy rebuilding his home and his life. “Once I finish making a rag-tag shelter, I will move to help the others construct similar shelters to keep the rain out. It will take me just a few hours. Everything is available. Old tin sheets, wood, hammer and nails. That is all that is needed.”

The brave efforts have left the army and the air force stumped. “They have noticed how difficult it is for us to help them individually. There are reports of many villages now refusing additional relief supplies, saying there are others which need them more,” an air force pilot said.

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