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India promises victims ‘whatever is needed’

Calling the earthquake in India-ruled Kashmir a national calamity, India’s prime minister said Tuesday the government will spare no expense to help survivors.
Indian survivor looks out from damaged house in Poonch
An Indian survivor looks out from a house damaged by Saturday's earthquake in Poonch, India on Tuesday. India's prime minister has vowed to help victims to the best of the government's ability, regardless of cost.Amit Gupta / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Calling the earthquake in India-ruled Kashmir a national calamity, India’s prime minister said Tuesday the government will spare no expense to help the survivors, promising more tents, medicine and other relief supplies.

Touring the devastated areas for the first time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured thousands of victims that the government would help them restart their lives.

“I am aware of the shortage of tents and inadequate medical facilities. We will do our best to organize these facilities for you,” Singh said after meeting survivors in Uri, the worst-affected area of Indian Kashmir.

“Whatever is necessary, whatever is needed to rehabilitate, whatever is needed for relief, the central government stands committed to help,” he said.

Officials said the death toll in Indian Kashmir from Saturday’s 7.6-magnitude quake had reached 1,300. Another 4,500 were injured and 32,000 houses were damaged, half of them beyond repair.

Singh pledged an additional $111 million in assistance on top of the $31.5 million already promised by his government for relief and rehabilitation in the Himalayan territory. He said that money was no object.

Left with nothing, survivors wait
Desperate villagers have complained that they are not getting food and shelter quickly enough.

“I am tired. For the last three days we have only eaten few morsels of boiled rice,” said Rahat Jan, 28, a resident of Kamalkote village that was almost completely destroyed by the quake.

“I need a ride to a hospital. If I don’t my child won’t survive,” she said, carrying her 8-month-old daughter, Sania, in her arms Tuesday.

Rafi Ahmad, another survivor who stood outside a heap of rubble that used to be his home, said he may have lived through the quake but “now it is a different nightmare.”

“Since the house collapsed we have been without a roof or shelter. It’s cold. If the quake spared us, the cold is now going to kill us,” he said.

The region, India’s only Muslim-majority state, also has suffered from an Islamic separatist insurgency that has killed more than 66,000 people since 1989.

On Monday, Kashmir’s biggest militant group, the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, offered to suspend violence, while other nonviolent separatist groups joined relief efforts, distributing milk, food and blankets.

The bulk of the relief effort, however, has been led by the government and army, which has more than a half million soldiers posted in the territory because of the insurgency.

Army planes have been dropping food, medicines and shrouds — required by Islam for burial — to inaccessible mountain villages. In addition, some 5,000 tents have been provided, far short of the 15,000 needed.