Help Reaches a Mountain Community Cut Off Since the Quake
Relief continues to arrive in the populated regions of Kashmir and Pakistan devastated by the earthquake October 8th. But for the remote village of Hotil, nothing had arrived until yesterday when a distribution team from the International Rescue Committee made the first delivery of aid to its residents.
In the northern reaches of the quake zone and perched high on a cliff over a rocky stretch of the Kunhar River, villagers in this mountain hamlet have been coping alone since the quake.
Until yesterday, landslides had blocked the road from the nearest town of Battagram about 10 kilometers away.
Before the quake, residents used a gondola suspended more than 400 feet above the river to ferry back and forth to the paved road. It now hangs dangerously by a single, broken cable.
The only way to reach Hotil now is down the steep path into the river gorge, across an unstable suspension bridge and back up the other side. On foot, the trip takes about 45 minutes.
Arriving after a 3 1/2-hour drive from the IRC's staging area in Abbottabad and guided by villagers, distribution team leader Taimoor Khisro and his colleague Faisal Israr set out to assess the damage and needs of the residents. Their focus was on families who had lost members.
Hiking over flattened houses and between precariously leaning walls, the team made their way to the heart of Hotil and talked to its still-shocked residents.
We're so glad you've arrived, says Abdullah Khan, you're the first to arrive to help us. Thank you.
Israr stood among the gathering crowd asking questions about damage and loss of life. The residents stood by answering his questions.
Compared to other areas of the quake zone, the 2000 people scattered in Hotil and the nearby mountains are lucky the casualties are not greater. About 350 houses have been damaged with an unknown number totally destroyed. Of the 45 people killed in the village, 38 were women.
Once back on the paved road, residents lined up and waited behind the IRC trucks for their turn to receive aid.
I received quilts, milk, water and (high-energy) biscuits, says 65-year-old Tawas Khan as he struggles with an armful of goods. His daughter-in-law and two grandsons were killed when their house completely collapsed. This has meant a lot to us. It means we will be saved from the harsh weather.
Like most residents of Hotil, Khan has been sleeping in a makeshift tent in a cornfield that provides little shelter. Winters are bitterly cold in the Himalayan foothills and snows are expected to arrive in the area by early December.
While goods were handed out to the residents, local police stood by to keep the operation orderly. We had two trucks looted by desperate survivors two days ago, so I'm glad the police are here, says the IRC's Taimoor Khisro.
Standing alone observing the relief effort with a tattered coat and white beard, 53-year-old Multan Khan listed the goods he received and thanked God for the help. The quilts will keep us warm and the biscuits will complement our diet, he says, but we still need shelter.
The IRC is planning to distribute tents in the area once assessments are complete.
As the sun set behind a line of pine trees high on the nearby ridge-top, the final bottles of water and quilts were handed out. Those who had received the goods struggled down the steep ravine, across the suspension bridge that swayed and creaked under their weight and back up the other side to the village.
It was a success, says Khisro. We successfully made an assessment and distribution in half-a-day to an area that's really inaccessible.
Wiping dirt and sweat from his brow, Israr agrees, The real success was that we were able to identify the real needy people and get it to them in time.
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