MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan -- The top UN relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, said yesterday that bold initiatives, perhaps akin to the Berlin Airlift of the late 1940s, are needed to save as many as 3 million people left homeless by the South Asian earthquake as winter approaches in the Himalayas.
The World Health Organization, meanwhile, reported that three quake survivors had died of tetanus. This reinforced fears in the region that disease and infected injuries could drive the 79,000 death toll far higher.
Egeland appealed to NATO and other potential donors to step in with helicopters to fly in relief supplies and evacuate perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.
''The world is not doing enough," Egeland said in Geneva. ''We should be able to do this."
He called for ''a second Berlin air bridge," nonstop flights reminiscent of the US and British airlift of essential supplies into West Berlin in 1948 and 1949, when Soviet troops blocked the city's road links to the West for almost 11 months. At one point, cargo planes landed in West Berlin at the rate of one a minute.
''We thought that the tsunami was as bad as it could get. This is worse," Egeland said. ''The race against the clock is also like no other one. There is a terrible cutoff for us in the beginning of December, maybe even before, when there will be massive snowfalls in the Himalaya mountains."
NATO is expected today to approve the dispatch of medics and hundreds of military engineers to clear roads and help reconstruction. However, allied commanders said it would be hard to muster enough of the light helicopters needed for flying in remote mountain areas to mount the campaign that Egeland envisioned.
Helicopters loaded with food and other supplies and soldiers on foot fanned out from the shattered city of Muzaffarabad, in the heart of the earthquake zone, in an attempt to get help to remote villages damaged in the tremor on Oct. 8, which recorded a magnitude of 7.6 on the open-ended Richter scale.
''There is a continued need for more helicopter capacity, to move in the inaccessible areas," Hilary Benn, British secretary of state for international development, said while touring the area. ''The terrain here is very difficult, and winter is approaching."
The first of 20 additional US military helicopters will arrive next week to help, US Rear Admiral Mike Le Fever said. The helicopters shipped from the US Air National Guard are being reassembled in Afghanistan, he said.
A dozen US military helicopters are ferrying in supplies and evacuating people from remote areas in Pakistan. Five more helicopters, normally used by the US State Department for drug surveillance, also were moved to relief efforts.
Dozens of Pakistani and foreign helicopters also are flying missions to aid survivors in isolated villages.
Abdul Aziz, whose wife was killed in the quake, decided it was better to seek help rather than wait. He walked seven hours to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, with his three sons and daughter. The girl had a broken bone, and all suffered from exposure and malnutrition.
Aziz said 150 of the 220 people in his village had been killed. ''I will not go back to that village where I lost my wife, my relatives, and my friends," he said.
The WHO said 17 cases of tetanus had been reported in the quake-stricken area, three of them resulting in deaths in the town of Balakot, in the North-West Frontier Province. Sarfaraz Tan Afridi, leader of the WHO team in the province, said his team was trying to immunize as many people as possible.
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause fever, high blood pressure, and severe muscle contractions. It can lead to death, especially among the elderly. People are infected when the bacteria, found in the ground and feces, enter through cuts and scratches.
Many people who have walked out of the mountains to aid stations in Muzaffarabad have infected wounds, said Brigadier Zafar Gondal, a doctor who runs a Pakistani army field hospital. ''We are doing whatever is possible," he said.