India Air-Drops Food, Burial Shrouds

Authorities air-dropped burial shrouds and food Monday to remote villages hit by the weekend's devastating earthquake, as the death toll climbed to 804 in Indian Kashmir (search).

Three days after the magnitude-7.6 temblor struck the Himalayan region, little help had reached outlying communities where villagers complained that food and water supplies were gone and some of them organized their own expeditions for supplies.

Authorities had delivered rice, flour and sugar, part of which was air dropped by military aircraft over remote villages. In addition, shrouds — pieces of unstitched cloth required by Islam for burial — also had been air-dropped.

But some residents were forced to organize their own relief efforts.

"It has been three days and nothing is at our village," said Buniyar villager Mohammed Zafra, who hired a car to get supplies a nearby town.

"We have no water. We are running out of food," Zafra said as he tried to fend off angry villagers who mistook him and his car — now piled high with blankets, food and cooking supplies — for an aid supply.

"Nothing has come to us, nothing!" shouted one woman, a blue veil covering her hair, as she banged on the hood of his car before being pushed away by two policemen.

Nearby, irate residents blocked roads for the second day to protest the tardy assistance. An off-duty policeman commandeered a car full of journalists to bring them to see the plight of his village of Pringal Uri.

"No one has come to our village to find out what has happened to us, to tell us how the damage to our houses will be fixed," said the policeman, Mushdaq Youssuf, 29. "We have no money to fix the houses."

Indian officials insisted they were doing everything they could. Sonia Gandhi (search), the head of India's ruling alliance, flew to Uri to reassure Kashmiris on Sunday.

One Indian civilian official said the military — which has between 500,000 and 700,000 troops in Kashmir to quell a Muslim separatist insurgency — was focusing on caring for its own.

The official, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said that in one army hospital in Uri, soldiers and their families were getting priority over civilian victims.

Separatist groups in the disputed Kashmir region were organizing their own relief efforts, said Yasin Malik, a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (search), who was carrying supplies for border villages past Uri. The group wants an independent Kashmir.

Malik urged the Indian government to step up relief efforts despite the tensions in the region.

"I hope the prime minister of India, whatever the politics of Kashmir are, would not hold relief up for political purposes," he said.