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US Helicopters Bring Aid to Quake Victims in Pakistan

12 October 2005

U.S. military helicopters are now flying dozens of relief missions to earthquake-devastated communities in Pakistan. VOA's Benjamin Sand joined a U.S. chopper crew delivering food and shelter to thousands of victims in Muzafarrabad, just a few kilometers from the quake's epicenter in Kashmir.

Finally, after blocked roads and bad weather delayed rescue efforts, aid is beginning to reach Muzafarrabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Eight U.S. military helicopters have joined the effort, rushing supplies to what one American serviceman called "Pakistani ground zero" - the epicenter of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake.

Officials say at least 20 more U.S. choppers are on their way.

Aid workers say the trip by car takes around six hours. In the American helicopters, it takes 25 minutes. The pilots say that weather permitting, they hope to make seven or eight trips a day.

U.S. embassy staffer William Hurd waits at the staging area in Muzaffarabad to meet the helicopters.  "We are here to do whatever the Pakistani government needs to be done, and we are happy to do whatever we can and use our resources to do that," said Mr. Hurd.

Going out, the helicopters take tents, medicine and food - more than 9,000 pounds of aid every trip. En route to Muzaffarabad, our helicopter flew over thousands of desperate people, many waving flags in the air to attract the attention of the rescuers.

As soon as the helicopters are unloaded, the crews start carrying the wounded back to hospitals around Islamabad.

When asked how many injured the crew will take back, one U.S. pilot said more than they should, but as many as they can. Volunteers helped load at least 40 people on board our chopper.

Thirty minutes later, the helicopter is back outside the capital.

As the patients are whisked onto waiting ambulances, Pakistani military officials coordinate the next flight with their U.S. counterparts.

Brigadier General Shah Jehan says the American support is having an immediate impact on the country's relief operations.

"They are doing a wonderful job. And the number of casualties they have brought here since yesterday and the vigor with which they are working, it is really excellent," commented General Jehan.

The Americans are part of a much larger international contingent that is helping Pakistan cope with the catastrophic earthquake.

Teams from Japan, Russia, South Korea and China, among many others, have all contributed money, personnel and equipment.

Even India, with whom Pakistan has fought three wars, has sent relief goods, another advance in the two countries' on-going peace process. Disasters have a way of pushing political considerations aside.

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