Militants fire on Pakistan quake relief helicopter
Rescue workers pace peril in Pakistan's earthquake zone of Baluchistan as militants fire rockets at a government helicopter.
Two rockets fired by militants in Pakistan’s quake-struck region narrowly missed a government relief helicopter on Thursday as survivors complained aid was not reaching far-flung areas and the death toll climbed to 348.
The attack underscored the dangers authorities and aid workers face in helping victims in southwestern Baluchistan province where a massive, magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit earlier this week.
Two days after the tremor struck, rescuers were still struggling to help survivors. The death toll from the quake reached 348 on Thursday, with more than 500 injured.
In the town of Arawan, about 100 protesters gathered around the district office to call attention to the plight of those living in outlying villages still waiting for help.
“The people who survived the earthquake are dying now because they have no food or water,” said Abdul Latif, one of the protesters.
Tuesday’s massive quake was focused in Awaran district, one of the poorest in Pakistan’s most impoverished province, Baluchistan. The area’s medical infrastructure has struggled to care for the hundreds of injured who were crushed beneath mud brick houses when the quake struck.
That task has been made even harder by the danger from separatists in Baluchistan who have been battling the Pakistani government for years. The militants fired two rockets on Thursday at a helicopter carrying top Pakistani officials in charge of relief operations.
The rockets missed and no one was injured, said the deputy district commissioner, Abdur Rasheed.
The helicopter was carrying the head of the country’s National Disaster Management Authority, a Pakistani Army general in charge of relief operations and other officials.
Before the incident, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told members of parliament on Thursday rescuers were already having a hard time reaching some areas due to security problems. They were trying to use C-130 planes to reach those spots, he said.
Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest province but also the least populated. Medical facilities are few and often poorly stocked with supplies and qualified personnel.
Many of the injured were ferried to the port city of Karachi or Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, for treatment.
A doctor at the main hospital for Awaran, a district of 300,000 spread out over 29,000 square kilometres, said on Thursday they didn’t have an X-ray machine or a laboratory to treat the more than 400 patients that have come through the hospital since Tuesday.
The supply of antibiotics and other medicines was low, said Dr Ameer Buksh, who’s in charge of the facility.
He said the hospital only has two ambulances, making it difficult to reach patients in the villages or transport the most serious to the distant port city of Karachi. The Edhi Foundation, which runs a network of ambulance services and other aid operations around the country, donated eight ambulances, he said.
The quake flattened wide swathes of the district, leaving the mostly mud brick houses in crumbled piles and their former residents homeless.