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Quake-hit to begin the year with snow, rain

The meteorological department said this on Saturday, as the long-feared Himalayan winter threatened to hinder relief operations.

world Updated: Dec 31, 2005 13:26 IST

The new year is set to begin with snow and rain for millions left homeless by the South Asian quake, Pakistan's meteorological department said on Saturday, as the long-feared Himalayan winter threatened to hinder relief operations.

Using helicopters, roads and mule tracks, aid workers helped by Pakistan's army have been delivering tents, clothes, food and other provisions to survivors since the October 8 quake struck the region, killing 87,000 people and making 3.5 million others homeless.

Although officials say they have provided basic facilities to people living in donated tents and damaged homes, aid agencies have warned that the brutal winter could hamper aid deliveries and create conditions ripe for illnesses.

A cold wave followed by rain was expected to hit the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir and other quake-hit areas late on Saturday, with heavy snow to follow a day later, the Meteorological Department said in a statement.

The Indian-administered portion of Kashmir was spared the worst of the damage. Both countries claim the entire territory, which is divided between them.

In Pakistani Kashmir's Muzaffarabad city, near the center of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake, officials said they were still able to fly helicopters.

"We are prepared to face heavy rains and snow, and we will continue (relief) operations even during the harsh winter," said Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Farooq Nasir.

He said army engineers would keep roads open.

Some snow fell on mountaintops above 2,100 meters (7,000 feet) in Kashmir and northwestern Pakistan weeks ago, but it did not interfere with relief operations.

The UN estimates that 2.5 million people are living in tents below 1,500 meters (5,000 feet), while 350,000-400,000 others are still at risk in higher areas, where snow and rains may make it more difficult for helicopters and trucks to reach them.

On Friday, Andrew Macleod, chief of UN relief operations in Pakistan, said relief operations would continue through the winter.

He also urged the world community to continue generously contributing money to enable UN and other agencies to keep helping survivors.

"I don't think the world fully understands how big this natural disaster really is," he told reporters in Muzaffarabad.

First Published: Dec 31, 2005 13:12 IST