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Indian victims shiver and wait

Poor before the 7.6-magnitude earthquake left them homeless, villagers on the Indian side of Kashmir get little help.
This woman in Jabla, India, broke down in tears after her home was destroyed by the earthquake. Rafiq Maqbool / Ap / AP
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

Mirzi Begum wished for one thing as dusk fell on Sunday.

Left homeless by the earthquake that devastated her village on the Indian side of Kashmir, Begum wanted a few blankets to cover her shivering children as they prepared to spend another night under a tattered plastic sheet stretched between two trees.

It rained the family's first night in the cold, after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake flattened their two-story house and destroyed most of their possessions. Since then, Begum and her children have been waiting for assistance -- tents, water and food. But so far, little help has arrived.

"God has forgotten us," Begum said as she soothed her 7-year-old daughter, Nazneen, who was slightly injured in the quake. "We've been abandoned now. It would have been better if we'd all just died when the earth shook. Now we're waiting for death."

The quake that convulsed the region Saturday left more than 600 people dead in India, in addition to tens of thousands of people in Pakistan. Most of the Indian deaths occurred in the Uri district, close to the disputed border with Pakistan. The area is bitterly poor, in part because of a separatist insurgency that has consumed the region since 1989.

Whole villages were reduced to piles of rubble when the mud-brick buildings collapsed. Thousands of people have slept outdoors for two nights with little, if any, access to food, water and medical help. Villagers clung to their few remaining belongings, huddling under trees and plastic sheets.

'Nothing to eat, no water to drink'
Syed Sajjad, 22, who lived next door to Begum with his extended family of 25, complained that the relief efforts had been mishandled. "There is nothing to eat, no water to drink, and getting relief supplies only depends on whether you know someone important."

Syed and his brother, Syed Israr, 16, have been taking turns watching for the supply trucks. Fights among villagers have broken out every time a truck arrived with a few blankets, milk and bottled water. The brothers said they have been turned away for the relief several times.

"We get insulted when we go to the supply trucks. They treat us like beggars, telling us not to take more than one bottle of water. One liter for eight people," Syed Israr said.

The family is living in one tattered tent and under a few blankets they salvaged from their home. For a while, they drank from a water tank retrieved from their bathroom, but it was cracked and soon ran dry. When darkness came on Sunday, the family huddled around a single candle.

'Up to God to save us'
In the village of Jabla, a few miles' walk from Salamabad, the situation appeared worse. Villagers buried 18 people Sunday morning, and 30 others were seriously injured. Despite the high toll, villagers said no ambulances had come to help transport the victims to the hospital in the state's summer capital, Srinagar.

"We've strapped the seriously injured onto homemade stretchers and taken them all the way down to the medical camp in Uri," said Mohammad Akram.

In Garkote, a village about five miles from the Pakistani border, nearly all the houses were damaged or destroyed, but no aid had arrived.

A woman who gave her name as Munera said she slept outdoors with many relatives, shivering from aftershocks and in Kashmir's fall chill, the Reuters news service reported.

"Government? We have given up on it," she said, drawing a brown Kashmiri shawl tightly around herself. "Now it is up to God to save us."