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Afghan and Pakistani Quake Survivors Face New Threat as Temperatures Freeze

by Alexander Smith and Fazul Rahim /  / Updated 

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Thousands left homeless by the deadly earthquake that rocked Afghanistan and Pakistan are facing new threats: freezing temperatures, heavy snow and driving rain.

The magnitude-7.5 quake that struck Monday killed at least 385 people, according to The Associated Press. Entire families were wiped out and thousands of homes were reduced to rubble across the remote, mountainous region.

Survivors say they are now facing another potentially deadly struggle over the coming days as bitter weather hits the region.

"Most people have spent two nights in the cold outside," 47-year-old Abdul Qader said of his fellow Afghan villagers. "We have spent two nights in the open outside in our garden, but staying very close to keep warm at night."

Gallery: Earthquake Rocks Afghanistan, Pakistan, India

The father-of-seven said his family managed to escape their home just in time but his cousin's family was killed after "their home was hit by a massive rock that slid from the mountain."

The quake "completely destroyed" most of the buildings in his village of Issa Khil, which is in the Chawkai district of Afghanistan's Kunar province, he said.

Landslides triggered by the quake have blocked all roads to the nearest city, and with no supplies reaching them villagers have been forced to pull blankets, rugs and mattresses from beneath the rubble.

"Fortunately the raining and hail storms have stopped and there is a lot of wood to burn and keep warm, but it is freezing cold here," Abdul said. "Several other children in the village have gotten sick and there is no medicine. We have very little food and we are managing with whatever we have."

Aid agencies have warned that the deteriorating conditions coupled with the lack of access to remote areas would hit children the hardest.

"We are extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of children, who are already the most at risk in any disaster and are now in danger of succumbing to the elements as temperatures plummet," Karin Hulshof, regional director of UNICEF, said in a statement Tuesday.

Much of the damage from the quake was in the Hindu Kush, a vast mountain range spanning Afghanistan and Pakistan whose peaks reach above 25,000 feet.

Some remote villages in the mountains were expected to experience daytime lows of 34 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday — with temperatures forecast to plummet to 23 degrees at night, according to The Weather Channel.

The cold will add to other difficulties already facing rescuers. Crews were still struggling to make it to "completely inaccessible" areas, which were "difficult to reach even in ordinary circumstances," UNICEF said.

The children's fund said it was working with the Afghan and Pakistani governments to provide aid to the affected regions.

One of those Afghans lucky enough to receive emergency supplies was 36-year-old father-of-four Noor Mohammed. But even he warned it may not be enough.

"I cannot describe to you what it was like; we all thought it was the end of the world," he said, recalling the moment the quake hit his village of Charmaghz Dara, in Badakhshan province. "There is no single house standing in the whole village, all homes are destroyed."

His daughter became sick after he and his family were forced to spend the first night sleeping outside in the cold. Their situation improved Tuesday with the arrival of medical teams, tents, blankets, and food from the government.

"It was better, but it is very cold and it is getting colder," Mohammed said. "Our main problem is that all we had, such as food and burning wood for winter, is gone."

"Another team came again today and promised us that they will help us … so we hope they stand by their promise," he said.

Alexander Smith reported from London.

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