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 » Where the quake hit  |  2005 major quakes  |  Quake magnitudes

U.N. chief: Quake refugees will need help

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A Pakistani family searches belongings in the rubble of their house in Balakot, Pakistan.

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(CNN) -- A top U.N. official said some 40,000 victims from the massive October quake that rocked South Asia are expected to come down from remote mountain areas soon, and need urgent help.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said on Thursday he was concerned for the fate of the highland survivors who are expected to flee their villages as the freezing Himalayan winter hits.

Guterres urged local officials and the international aid community to urgently prepare for the arrival of thousands of people fleeing harsh conditions.

Additionally, Guterres said the world must ensure villagers who choose to remain in the ruins of their homes get the help they need to survive the next few months, according to The Associated Press.

"We are doing our best to ensure that everybody, even in the most remote locations, gets enough support to face the winter and to get through the winter without tragedy," AP quoted him as saying.

So far aid providers have reached 95 percent of those who survived the quake, but helicopters are essential because of all the remote villages, Guterres said while on a visit to the quake-stricken region.

Landing in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, Guterres described "terrible scenes" of devastation and "people living in very difficult conditions. The winter is coming."

Also seeing the quake zone were Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency, and Brad Pitt. They made an unannounced visit to Balakot and flew to a remote valley aboard a helicopter that brought food, blankets and plastic sheets to improve shelters, agency officials said.

The October 8 earthquake killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and another 1,200 in Indian-controlled Kashmir, authorities have said.

It also left more than 3 million people in northwestern Pakistan and its part of Kashmir homeless. The homeless now live in tents provided by the United Nations and other relief agencies,

Air Cmdr. Andrew Walton, the head of NATO's relief team in Pakistan, said providing food and medicine to people in high mountain villages was "a race in all senses of the word" before winter snow sets in and cuts off communication links, according to The Associated Press.

An estimated 35,000 people at high altitudes are at risk from extreme cold in Bagh, one of the worst-hit districts in Pakistan's part of Kashmir where NATO troops are operating, he told a news conference in Islamabad.

NATO troops have provided shelter to 29,000 people, and efforts are under way to get shelters for the remaining 6,000, Walton said.

At a donor conference last week, more than $3 billion was raised to assist Pakistan, bringing the total pledges to $5.8 billion -- believed to be enough to cover the estimated expenses of assisting survivors and rebuilding the regions.

Britain on Thursday announced an extra $43 million in humanitarian relief and added that Prime Minister Tony Blair, on top of $56 million Britain has already provided.

But, as Guterres pointed out, much of the funds nations have pledged have not yet arrived, and the United Nations is urging donors to make roughly $300 million in pledged funds available now, to see relief efforts through the winter.

"Pakistan has been an extremely generous country," he said, pointing out the country has taken in millions of refugees from neighboring Afghanistan and supported the international community.

"I think it's time for the payback... the international community needs, really, to be fully engaged."

In a report earlier this month, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank said the quake would cost Pakistan about $5.2 billion.

One of the largest offers came from the United States, which tripled its original pledge to $510 billion. (Full story)

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the battle against Islamist terrorism.

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