Pakistan's army was flying geologists to an isolated northwestern valley Tuesday to investigate reports from residents of possible volcanic activity after the massive earthquake that killed about 80,000 people, an official said.
The Pakistani geologists will survey the Alai Valley, and if they find evidence of a volcanic eruption the 150,000 people who live there will be evacuated, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.
Army helicopters flew over the rugged region of North West Frontier Province on Monday and did not find any signs of an eruption, Sultan said.
An estimated 3.3 million people have been left homeless by the Oct. 8 quake, which has been followed by hundreds of aftershocks that have spooked survivors and periodically triggered landslides.
A huge international relief effort has been mounted, but fears remain for vulnerable communities in distant mountains, with the harsh Himalayan winter closing in.
Despite fresh appeals and warnings of a second wave of deaths, the United Nations said Monday it has received less than 30 percent of the US$312 million (261 million) it desperately needs to help the victims.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan invited ministers to attend a high-level donor conference in Geneva on Wednesday to mobilize additional financial support for the massive relief effort.
Cloudy weather Tuesday raised concern that rains could fall in the coming days. But Maj. Farooq Nasir, army spokesman in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, said helicopter relief flights were still operating unimpeded.
Sultan said it was possible that people in the Alai Valley, located at a height of about 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) and surrounded by mountains as high as 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) could be mistaking the noise of aftershocks or landslides for the sound of a volcano. "It could be more prominent in the valley because it is very narrow and aftershocks trigger landslides in the mountains, which have already been cut by the earthquake. It kicks up dust due to which local people believe there could be some volcanic activity," he told The Associated Press.
An official from Pakistan's meteorological department, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media, said there was very little chance of volcanic activity as there was no recent history of eruptions in Pakistan.
On Monday, trucks carrying more than 100 American soldiers and the U.S. Army's only remaining field hospital unit set up shop in Muzaffarabad on a mission Washington hopes will help generate goodwill among Pakistanis. Many of the injured have yet to receive proper medical care.
The 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or MASH, could save lives, but its arrival was delayed by a shortage of aircraft, vehicle breakdowns and the winding roads of the lower Himalayas.
When the unit finally rolled into the city after a 27-hour drive from a military base near Islamabad, it still lacked equipment for major surgeries, expected to arrive in a few days, reports the AP. I.L.