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South Asia earthquake: two hours in Saidpur

01-11-2005 Feature

Jean-François Berger, the editor in chief of the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine, travels with an ICRC team distributing essential relief items to a remote mountain village.

Our chopper lands at around noon at Saidpur in the Jhelum valley.

After unloading, some of our team begin to distribute tarpaulins and blankets in this heavily damaged village cut off from the world.

Meanwhile I accompany Johnny, a bearded paramedic from the Norwegian Red Cross, to a private house full of holes and cracks that has been converted into a clinic by a Dutch team from Médecins Sans Frontières.

" Any casualties for medevac? " asks Johnny.

" Nobody yet, " says a blond and smiling doctor.

Back at the distribution point several experienced ICRC Afghan employees here to help the victims of the earthquake are monitoring efforts.

At around one o'clock, I return to the clinic where a group of villagers has just arrived carrying a young girl on a wooden bed. The exhausted fourteen year-old, Shezadi, has been brought here by anxious relatives from where they live an hour's walk away. 

The problem becomes obvious when her bandages are removed – a broken tibia and an infection.

" A boulder fell on her leg, " explains her brother, Nur.

We move the girl to a makeshift stretcher – a door with a blanket thrown over it -- and carry her to the helicopter. Her brother comes along to keep her company on the journey.

It is around two o'clock when we take off.

About an hour later and Shezadi is in good hands – those of a Norwegian surgeon at the ICRC field hospital in Muzaffarabad. It is difficult to s ay if Shezadi's leg will be saved, but she already looks a lot calmer than she did an hour ago.

Her brother too looks more relaxed as he tells us that Shezadi means " Princess. "