MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – Rescue efforts gave way to aid relief, as hopes faded Wednesday of finding more survivors in Pakistan’s devastated quake zone. Still, miracles emerged amid the misery: A Russian team rescued a 5-year-old girl trapped for nearly 100 hours under the rubble of her family home.
Trucks and helicopters with aid from dozens of countries choked roads up to the crumbling towns of the Himalayan region of Kashmir, but the hungry and homeless in hard-hit areas remained isolated four days after the temblor.
“No country is ready for such a disaster,” said President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a nationally televised address, acknowledging delays in his government response but saying that relief operations were now fully under way.
The 7.6-magnitude quake Saturday demolished whole towns, mostly in Kashmir, divided by a cease-fire line between Indian and Pakistani territories. The death toll was believed to be more than 35,000, with tens of thousands injured.
A 5.6-magnitude aftershock shook the capital Islamabad early Thursday, causing buildings to move for a few seconds. It was not immediately clear if it caused any damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the aftershock was centered about 85 miles northeast of Islamabad.
U.S., Pakistani, German and Afghan helicopters delivered tents, blankets and medical equipment and brought back dozens of badly injured people on each return flight. The choppers flew in clear skies after stormy weather forced the suspension of flights Tuesday.
“The problem we are seeing right now is that there’s so many injured Pakistanis, we just can’t take back everyone. We are limited for space,” U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said at a base near Islamabad.
At a landing zone in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, doctors selected only the most severely injured for evacuation.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Islamabad, where Pakistani leaders appealed for tents, water, blankets and clearing equipment.
“We will be with you in your hour of need. We will be with you not just today but also tomorrow,” Rice said at a news conference with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Aziz said small aircraft were able to land at the airport in Muzaffarabad, but C-130 transport planes still were only able to airdrop equipment and supplies.
The United Nations estimated some 4 million people were affected, including 2 million who lost homes, and warned that measles, cholera and other diseases could break out. Some 50,000 Pakistani troops joined the relief effort.
Washington has pledged $50 million in relief aid to Pakistan, a key ally in its fight against terror. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced an additional $17.5 million, on top of $3.5 million already promised.
The World Bank said it would double its initial commitment of aid to Pakistan to $40 million and said the long-term amount could run to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Relief supplies poured in from about 30 countries – including 25 tons of tents, medical supplies and food from longtime rival India. The Indian effort was not without a glitch, however, as a plane from New Delhi was forced to turn around because Pakistan said there was no room to land. The plane got new clearance and arrived in Islamabad before dawn.
Most of the quake’s victims were in Pakistan, with more than 1,400 people killed in Indian Kashmir. New Delhi’s aid offer and Pakistan’s acceptance reflect warming relations between the nuclear-armed rivals, who fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and embarked on a peace process last year.
In Muzaffarabad, desperate residents mobbed trucks arriving with food and water, grabbing whatever they could and pushing the weak aside.
Rescue workers fanned out from the town by helicopter to remote parts of Kashmir – including eight teams from the British International Rescue Corps, which has found 16 survivors since arriving in the quake zone nearly three days ago.
“As time goes on, hope will get less and less. But you always do get miracles,” said Ray Gray, wearing a blue uniform and helmet as he prepared to board a chopper. “Even if we just find one person, the whole effort is worth it.”
People can survive under rubble for up to seven days, but dwindling air supply, injuries and dehydration take their toll on those clinging to life.
Five-year-old Zarabe Shah lasted almost exactly four days until Russian rescuers with search dogs, listening devices and breath-detecting equipment pulled her out at 9 a.m. Wednesday and took her to a camp for homeless quake survivors.
“I want to drink,” she whispered, her cropped hair caked with dust. An elderly man fed her tiny sips of water from a blue plastic bottle cap.
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