Page 3 of 3   <      

Hopelessness Descends Over Quake Victims

"Why did they beat us?" Arif Mahood shouted through his peers. "We have come all this way to help."

"No matter, no matter," said Bashir Ahmad, a district judge who lives in the village and has become a de facto leader there. "Please be patient, we are very grateful to you." But the volunteers were not mollified. They said they would provide the supplies only if Ahmad handled the distribution.

Ahmad coaxed the gathering crowd of villagers into an orderly line in front of the Jeep, prodding them with a long stick. But as soon as his back was turned, they swarmed over the vehicle and began tossing out the contents. Precious bottles of water splattered on the ground.

Salahuddine Khan, 23, a burly student who is normally the cut-up of the group, looked on gravely.

"I don't know if it's a good idea to set up the first-aid camp here," he said. "Look at the people. If, God forbid, someone comes for treatment and dies, these people will blame us and beat us to death." But Rai insisted they press on to investigate reports of hundreds of grievously injured residents in villages above that were accessible only by foot.

At every turn, he saw villagers carrying down their wounded: two men bearing a boy on a stretcher with deep cuts on his arm and ankle; an elderly man lugging an even more elderly woman on his back; a husband leading his disoriented wife, who stopped for a moment to show Rai the deep crack in her skull.

Still, at least these villagers were able to leave their hamlet to seek help.

Rai lit a cigarette and took a long drag. "I wanted to become a doctor because I feel like saving the life of another human being is a very royal job," he said, hiking down toward the Jeep. "But out here, with no medicines or possibility of surgery, I feel totally useless."

Correspondent John Lancaster in Islamabad contributed to this report.

<          3

© 2005 The Washington Post Company