Nishat Bibi pressed a yellow head scarf to her nose as several Pakistani soldiers placed a rotting corpse on the ground before her. She stared at the bloated, bloodied face for several seconds, then shook her head slowly.
"No," she said, "that's not my brother."
But it was only a brief sign that Liakat Ahmed, a 20-year-old barber and passionate music fan, might have survived the collapse of his shop. Moments later, the soldiers hacking with pickaxes through the rubble pulled out another body.
This time, Bibi, 30, cried out. "Oh, my brother!" she wailed. "You have left me alone to weep for you!"
There were many other scenes of hope and despair Wednesday in Balakot, a mountain town of about 30,000 devastated by the severe earthquake Saturday that affected northeastern Pakistan and parts of India and Afghanistan.
While many surrounding villages remain cut off four days after the temblor, Balakot was one of several places receiving significant assistance from Pakistan's military government, international rescue groups and other volunteers.
The two-lane road to Balakot was backed up for miles with trucks and vans driven by private citizens ferrying in heaps of donated clothing and blankets. Ambulances weaved back and forth, sirens blaring, while green military helicopters whirred overhead.
Although an army officer estimated that 3,000 soldiers were providing support to the town, army doctors said they lacked vital equipment. Some residents complained that the military's food distribution system was haphazard and that there was a shortage of tents.
Once a favorite way station for tourists drawn by the town's majestic views and temperate climate, Balakot has been reduced to piles of concrete slabs and twisted metal, with barely a single structure left standing.
Next to the helicopter landing zone, a team of about 20 French rescue experts waited for a flight, having determined that there were no survivors left. They said they planned to search elsewhere.
Nearby, about 20 Pakistani military doctors and 10 volunteers tended to patients in a cluster of green tents.
"We're overwhelmed," said one physician, Capt. Bilal Shah, who was wearing a pressed khaki uniform. "We've seen about a thousand people today, and they are still coming."
Most of the wounded appeared to be residents of remote hamlets in the peaks above the town. One was Gul Zar, 35, with bright green eyes and a red head scarf. Her husband, Abdul Kuyum, 35, a short man, had carried her on his back for four hours from their village of Satcha Nadi.
She had been cutting hay to feed their animals when the earthquake struck and a boulder smashed her foot, Kuyum explained to Shah, the physician.
Zar gripped the side of her stretcher and inhaled deeply as Shah unwrapped the homemade bandage around her foot.
"This pain is unbearable," she whispered to her husband.
Shah examined the wound and saw signs of gangrene. If the dead tissue was not removed immediately, Zar could lose her leg or even her life, he said. But with only a small generator and antibiotics on hand, he was not equipped to do that at the campsite. "When will the next helicopter arrive?" he asked another physician, who shrugged.
"Maybe we should send her by ambulance," the other doctor said.
Shah looked doubtful. Then he stiffened. The sound of spinning rotors could be heard in the distance. The doctors picked up Zar's stretcher and raced toward the arriving helicopter, her husband in pursuit.
After Zar was placed aboard, soldiers began pulling off boxes of rice from Saudi Arabia. They then threw the boxes to a jostling crowd at the barbed-wire fence that ringed the landing zone.
"This is a terrible system," muttered Mohammed Hassan, a schoolteacher who said his wife and youngest daughter were fatally crushed in the quake. "Anyone who behaves like a gentleman will not get anything."
Now, he said, his three remaining daughters, the oldest of whom is 13, were spending their nights in an open field, shivering in the cold.
As the helicopter rose in the air, Kuyum walked back to the field hospital. He was clutching a handwritten receipt stating that his wife had been evacuated.
"But how will I find her now?" the farmer asked, speaking to no one in particular.