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South Asia Earthquake Update

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

More than 20,000 people are known dead following Saturday's earthquake in South Asia. That number is expected to rise over the next few days. Rescue and recovery efforts have intensified today.

We reached BBC reporter Andrew North in one of the worst-hit areas of Pakistan.

Mr. ANDREW NORTH (BBC Reporter): I'm in the town of Balakot in northern Pakistan which was a town of some 30 or 40,000 people up in the mountains, north of the capital, Islamabad. And it appears to have been one of the worst-hit areas by Saturday's earthquake. It's fairly close to the epicenter. And from where I am now in the center of the town, most of it has pretty much been ripped out by the quake. The main bazaar, the market, has been almost completely leveled. Right now, I'm talking to you from the grounds of the main boys school and every building in the school grounds has been destroyed and very sadly there were many hundreds of boys in their classes when the earthquake struck on Saturday morning. And all day that I've been here, I've been watching many of their bodies being pulled out from the wreckage here.

INSKEEP: What do survivors tell you about their experience of the last couple of days?

Mr. NORTH: Well, particularly here, it has been very rough, because for the most part, they have had to look after themselves. Only today on the third day since the quake have we seen significant outside help arriving here. They have been doing the search and rescue effort themselves, pulling at the rubble with their bare hands, with picks and shovels if they can find them. Of course, those picks and shovels, I see many of them broken on the hard concrete. Not much use on the hard concrete.

Finally today, we have seen some heavy construction equipment has finally reached here. They had to clear the roads, first of all, because landslides have cleared the road. I actually got in here by walking in. But they have finally cleared a roadway in here, which has allowed some of this heavy excavation gear to get in. But such is the scale of the devastation that at the moment they can only really just put a dent in the outskirts.

INSKEEP: Was there an initial period then when authorities were just paralyzed by the scale of this disaster?

Mr. NORTH: Well, it is a huge disaster. There's no doubt about it. But at the same time, I'm certainly hearing here a lot of complaints about the speed of the effort. And it has been, I think, surprising to see--I mean, there are Pakistani military soldiers here in the town, but they do not seem to have taken a particularly proactive role in the effort. We heard a helicopter as we started speaking. I've seen many helicopters flying over the town all day, but none of them have landed and none of them appear to have dropped in any kinds of supplies. They appear to be simply coming to survey the damage and then flying away again. So people on the ground are certainly very skeptical about the amount of help they're getting from the government, although the government certainly says more help is coming.

INSKEEP: The BBC's Andrew North is in Pakistan. Thanks very much.

Mr. NORTH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.