Bad weather grounds quake relief helicopters

Flights bearing aid to quake survivors should resume today; they were stopped yesterday because of the bad weather. Aid workers say the cold may claim more victims.

Muzaffarabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Heavy rain and snow lashed earthquake-hit areas yesterday, grounding helicopters that fly relief supplies to the millions of survivors in temporary shelters.

Aid workers have warned that cold weather in the Himalayan foothills, where temperatures have already fallen below freezing, may claim more lives after the magnitude 7.6 quake on October 8 left about 87,000 dead and 3.5 million homeless.

Using helicopters, roads and mule tracks, UN and other aid groups and Pakistan's army have been delivering tents, clothes, food and other provisions to survivors.

Helicopters were not flying in the quake zone due to poor visibility yesterday, said an air force official at an air base in Chaklala, near the capital, Islamabad - the main hub for distributing relief supplies.

The weather was likely to clear up enough for helicopter flights to resume by late today.

The UN estimates that 2.5 million people are living in tents below 1,500 metres, while 350,000 to 400,000 others are in higher areas.

Yesterday, rain pounded the quake zone and about 30cm of snow fell above the 1,830 metre level, said Qamar-uz Zaman Chaudhry, the head of Pakistan's Meteorological Department. More snow and heavy rain were likely over the next two days, he said.

Major Farooq Nasir, an army spokesman in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, said that army engineers would keep roads open when bad weather grounds helicopters.

The Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir suffered the most casualties from the quake. India controls the other part of the divided territory, but both countries claim it in entirety.

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