U.S., International Aid Helped Prevent More Deaths in Quake's Aftermath
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 22, 2006 American and international intervention prevented a humanitarian catastrophe in the aftermath of a devastating October earthquake in a rural region of this mountainous country, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here.
In a visit to the affected region this week, Marine Gen. Peter Pace met with Pakistani and American officials involved in the relief effort. He said the tremendous response and hard work by thousands stopped the death toll from soaring during the hard winter months in this region.
"It says a lot about the Pakistani and international planning that there was no spike in deaths over the winter," Pace said. "Not only that, but (there was) no dysentery, no typhoid, no outbreaks of waterborne disease."
The magnitude 7.6 quake on Oct. 8 killed 75,000 Pakistanis and left 2.8 million homeless in an area north of this capital city. Rugged terrain complicated relief efforts, Pakistani Maj. Gen. Khalid Nawaz, commander of the 12th Heavy Mountain Division in the region, said.
The Himalayas dominate the cities, villages and valleys of the region. In many areas, the valleys are so narrow that single-lane roads are the only way in or out. Dwellings cling to the side of steep mountains. Paths just wide enough for a mule snake up and down hillsides. In the best of times the area is remote and portions almost inaccessible.
Landslides caused by the quake blocked roads and waterways, further isolating the population. In one area, "the road had simply vanished," Nawar said.
Tremors felled bridges, and even foot trails were rendered impassable, Navy Rear Adm. Mike LeFever, commander of the Disaster Assistance Center here, said during Pace's visit.
Shortly after the earthquake, international experts forecast that thousands in the region would die from exposure and disease during the winter. "From the very start there were two priorities," a U.S. embassy official said. "The first was to rescue the people who needed help immediately. The second was to prevent the wave of death that everyone expected."
Army medics with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, based in Germany, began entering the area within 10 days of the quake. Ultimately 17 C-17 planeloads of medical gear arrived in the region. Through the winter, the medics -- working with local and international physicians -- saw 34,914 patients, performed 493 major surgeries and countless minor procedures, U.S. officials said. The medics administered vaccinations, tested water and advised on the public health aspects of the emergency.
Relief workers scrambled to provide shelter, heat and food for the 2.8 million in the region left homeless by the quake before winter set. "Everyone felt we had to work all the time because we felt the pressure of winter," a Disaster Assistance Center officer said during Pace's visit. "Any moment we wasted we felt could cost a life."
Pakistani officials established teams to build shelters and set up tents. They built 200,000 temporary dwellings and set up 80 tent cities. While many people went to the tent cities, most of the population wanted to remain near their homes, officials said. "It is natural to stay where you are familiar with life, and they felt very comfortable with the help the Pakistan army provided to them," Nawaz said.