Image: John Kerry in Pakistan
B.K. Bangash / AP
Sen. John Kerry talks with a young Pakistani quake survivor at a camp in Shangla district near Mansera, Pakistan, on  Saturday.
updated 1/14/2006 11:06:38 PM ET 2006-01-15T04:06:38

Former U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry toured earthquake-devastated parts of northern Pakistan on Saturday, distributing school uniforms and meeting local leaders at a tent village funded partly by both the United States and communist Cuba.

The visit came amid warnings that heavy snow would blanket the quake zone over the next four to five days, possibly triggering avalanches along the jagged peaks and promising more misery for the 3.5 million people left homeless by the Oct. 8 quake.

“The relief operations will be affected badly,” the Pakistan Meteorological Department said.

Kerry toured a camp housing some 18,000 people who survived the 7.6-magnitude quake, which killed 87,000 people, mostly in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and the country’s North West Frontier Province. There were 1,350 deaths in India’s portion of Kashmir.

“We’re sorry you have to go through this,” said Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts who is a veteran member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kerry on an international tour
Striding between neat rows of plastic tents erected with the help of the United States, Cuba and China, he also visited a makeshift school for 3,000 children. Many of the youngsters had never been to school before coming to Meira.

“It’s more impressive in many ways that what I expected,” said Kerry, who is on a 12-day trip that includes stops in Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan and Iraq. “It’s also really impressive to see the cooperative effort of countries from around the world.”

During his stop at the camp, which is alongside a fast-flowing river that cuts a jagged canyon between craggy cliffs, the senator handed out blue school uniforms to boys and girls sitting in the dirt before the tents that serve as classrooms.

The U.S. Agency for International Development paid for the uniforms.

Many camp residents expressed thanks for the aid, but are worried about rebuilding when they return to their wrecked homes in the next few months.

‘Nothing left ... but dust and rubble’
Mohammed Sarfraz, deputy mayor of the camp, told Kerry it was crucial for foreign donors to keep the aid coming after the snows melt and survivors go home.

“We need to live like human beings,” Sarfraz said. “There’s nothing left there but dust and rubble.”

The United Nations said Saturday it will now focus on getting aid to unofficial refugee camps.

There are 26 camps run by the Pakistan military with assistance and provisions from U.N. agencies and other donor organizations, but about 118 unplanned camps have sprung up, U.N. officials said.

“Our rapid assessment of needs after the first biting taste of winter suggests that we need to do more for people in these unplanned camps below the snow line,” U.N. relief coordinator Jan Vandemoortele said in a statement.

Authorities must also be on guard for a spike in cold-related illnesses, especially among the young and elderly, he said.

Worrying that the harsh Himalayan weather could trigger a second wave of deaths among the hundreds of thousands of survivors living in tents, aid workers have been racing to deliver as much aid as possible before another snowstorm blocks roads and grounds helicopters. In early January, aid shipments had to shut down during three days of heavy snow.

Officials also have laid plans for dealing with up to 60,000 additional refugees in case the winter drives more people to leave devastated villages in the mountains and move to lower-lying areas.

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