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Deadly Earthquake Shakes Asia

October 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: It was the most devastating earthquake to hit South Asia in a century. We have three reports from Independent Television News correspondents, beginning with Mark Austin, who flew into Kashmir with a British rescue team.

MARK AUSTIN: With the British search and rescue team this afternoon we boarded a helicopter provided by the Argacon. This was a reconnaissance mission to remote areas, many still inaccessible by road and what we saw was simply staggering. In village after village, town after town, there is devastation on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.

But such pictures, dramatic as they are, disguise the real tragedy here. The quake struck at 8:53 a.m.; in every collapsed home was a family sitting down to breakfast, in every school, children at their desks, in every hospital, patients waiting for the doctors’ round — all human life, and so much of it snatched away. The British rescuers surveyed all this with utter bewilderment.

Soon we put down in a town that was no more. Such was the destruction here. The rescuers set off to begin their work, but where do you begin in a place like this?

SIMON WATSON, Rapid UK: There’s a lot of buildings collapsed, a lot of damage in the area, and we’re just trying to get the right priorities now and search where it’s most required.

MARK AUSTIN: And just looking at it do, you think there are people still alive in some of these buildings?

SIMON WATSON: I think there’s a chance that people can still be alive in these buildings, yes.

MARK AUSTIN: And some of the injured were soon clamoring to get on the helicopter, people desperate to get their children to hospitals — and others, for whom this airlift is the only hope. The air crew took everyone they could; others were told to wait for helicopters landing soon behind us. These were desperate scenes in a place full of desperate stories.

JIM LEHRER: Here are some of those desperate stories, from two towns near the epicenter of the quake. Bill Neely reports from one of them, in the frontier province west of Kashmir.

BILL NEELY: From a deep hole in what was a school comes a small body, a little girl, in her uniform. Nobody knows her name. But they take her away quickly because they have so many more to pull out — hundreds.

There is a terrible reason why so many mothers are crying here. They have all lost their children — some all of them. They sent them to school with kisses — within an hour and in an instant whole classes were dead.

The mountainside overlooking the small town of Balakot is the source of their pain. The school that was here is gone. The fathers wait, but with little hope; 350 of their children are dead. They have no heavy lifting equipment. The bodies are trapped and not just bodies. The rescuers have heard voices.

DONG XU, Chinese Rescue Worker: People are definitely, some people are definitely alive there. There are five children alive there and asking for help under collapse.

BILL NEELY: Five children?

DONG XU: Yes, I believe it’s primary schoolchildren.

BILL NEELY: And what are they saying?

DONG XU: They’re asking for help.

BILL NEELY: So they dig very carefully. But more often than not, it is far, far too late. The whole town is in mourning. The bodies of its children, crisscrossing the streets where they once played, past the clock on the school wall, stopped at the very moment when their lives ended.

The very epicenter of the earthquake was underneath this town about six miles below this school. About half Balakot’s children were killed; many are still buried beneath this debris; 10 schools in all, nursery, primary, and secondary, perhaps 700 children dead, at least, but they’re not really sure.

The luckier parents hold their living children tightly, but a generation has been lost here. So today with a final kiss, thousands left the destroyed town for a new life.

So many passed the landslides, but going where? Most towns are stricken and half the roads are blocked. They clear a way through a tunnel to the nearest town which is 20 miles away, but when we reached it, we found more evidence of the strongest earthquake here in 100 years and more pain.

Here, a university collapsed; the students are laid out on the seats at their football pitch. Like the schoolchildren, hundreds had been indoors when nature taught its cruelest lesson. And here too, the youngest suffered the most.

MAN: There’s one public school — 700 children, complete building go down.

SPOKEMAN: Thirty one students, they were in the class, out of 31, 10 at the spot were dead and the remaining 21 were badly injured, their legs and forelimbs also injured.

BILL NEELY: Your class?

SPOKESMAN: Yes, they’re in my class.

BILL NEELY: The injured children and adults are brought onto the football pitch, and laid out near the dead. There are hundreds here and dozens more are coming every few minutes. The problem is there’s not only no food, there is no water. And many of these people are simply being left here to die.

There seemed little hope for this man. Anchia’s father checks her heartbeat, she’s only six, but she’s lost a leg. Shamila Rashid has lost her older and her younger sister. These people never had much. They’re now reeling from the greatest disaster here for generations, they’re looking for help, and for the generation that’s been swept away, they are praying tonight.

JIM LEHRER: Now a report from John Irvine at another town right next to the epicenter.

JOHN IRVINE: Muzaffarabad lies at the bottom of a deep gorge; normally a thriving city, today this was a valley of death. Nearly every collapsed building smells of it, three days into this crisis, it’s only bodies that are being pulled from the rubble here, not survivors.

This is what’s left of the Medina market, a pedestrian area; it was the main shopping thorough fare in the city. Right now it’s quite literally deathly quiet — abandoned to the corpses.

Anyone who can leave the city is doing so. Those who have had to stay behind feel forgotten and let down by the authorities, for little in the way of aid or help has reached here.

MAN: This is my house, which has completely ruined, you see. My three brothers have died over there.

JOHN IRVINE: Having lost his brothers, he’s desperate to recover their bodies.

MAN: There’s no help from anywhere, from any side. Nobody is helping us. We are just helpless.

JOHN IRVINE: Most buildings here are two or three stories and a high portion of them were brought down by nature’s violence. They are trying to extricate 30 bodies from the main bank. One survivor said the building came down in the blink of an eye.

SURVIVOR: Maybe two or three seconds, within two or three seconds.

JOHN IRVINE: It was that quick?


JOHN IRVINE: You must feel very lucky to be alive.

SURVIVOR: I am thankful to God for giving me life again, and I am sorry because my colleagues died.

JOHN IRVINE: Help has been slow to reach Muzzafarabad because the road in is very difficult. And this is what can happen to those who try to rush it. These were the only army trucks we saw on our entire journey.

This is quite extraordinary. This is the main road between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad which is the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and in the heart of the earthquake zone, there is virtually nobody else on this highway.

It’s difficult but aid convoys may be able to get here tomorrow, waiting for them are a grieving and desperate people spending another night outdoors.