Earthquake, Mudslide, Bird Flu
Everyone leads with the massive earthquake that struck Pakistan early Saturday, killing thousands of people in Central Asia. The papers are reporting hugely discrepant death tolls. The NYT and the LAT estimate that the quake killed at least 18,000 people, a figure they attribute to a senior Pakistani official. The WP says 2,000, with the caveat that the death toll is expected to rise.
The quake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, wiped entire villages off the map and disrupted transportation and communication throughout the region. Rescue workers are struggling to reach victims in remote areas. By all accounts, the situation is desperate. The NYT notes, perhaps a bit sardonically, that President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan "expressed satisfaction with the rescue operation" as he toured a collapsed apartment complex in Islamabad. Interestingly, NYT and WP stories have an Islamabad byline, but the LAT is filing from the Northern city of Balakot. Islamabad was only sporadically affected by the quake, whereas Balakot was reduced to rubble.
The WP fronts the catastrophic mudslides in Guatemala. More than 500 people have been killed and hundreds have gone missing during a week of heavy rains and mudslides caused by Hurricane Stan.
The LAT off-leads that political progress in Iraq may actually be exacerbating the insurgency. The Bush administration has long maintained that progress towards democracy would undermine the insurgency. Nevertheless, over the last two months, analysts with access to new classified intelligence have noted what they call a "significant and disturbing disconnect" between Iraq's ostensible progress toward constitutional democracy and the intensity of the insurgency. They attribute this disconnect to the increasing disaffection of the Sunni minority who feel underrepresented in the new Iraqi government, but who are nevertheless overrepresented in the insurgency.
In other Iraq news, the NYT fronts that brutal militias rule the city of Basra, having infiltrated and outgunned the local police.
The NYT also fronts President Bush's repeated attempts to defend his Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, against attacks from conservative Republicans. Bush has now publicly defended Miers three times since he nominated her on Monday. The story says it has been a "blistering week" for the president, who now has to deal with a "conservative uprising" against Miers. As the NYT observes, the right-wing insurrection comes at a bad time for the administration, which is already attempting to weather several scandals.
The WP predicts that Miers will face a much tougher confirmation battle than Bush's previous nominee, Chief Justice John Roberts. The NYT and the WP concur that Miers is at a severe disadvantage in the confirmation process because she has no background in constitutional law. Both papers quote Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) as saying that Miers will need more than murder boards (confirmation practice sessions) to get confirmed.
WP attempts to explain why everyone knew New Orleans might be destroyed by a hurricane, but nobody did anything about it—political inertia and environmental degradation emerge as major culprits.
According to a front page story in the NYT, the threat of a bird flu pandemic is real, but not imminent. Experts are concerned that H5N1 influenza is spreading rapidly among Asian birds and that an increasing number of people are being infected by fowl. The virus has not yet mutated to spread from person to person, however. It is impossible to predict when such a mutation might occur. The article strikes a determinedly optimistic tone, citing an expert who says that a flu pandemic wouldn't be as lethal today as the infamous 1918 outbreak because of better medical care and higher population resistance. The WP buries its bird-flu coverage, but provides some additional details about the federal government's evolving bird-flu preparedness plan. The article explains that in the event of an outbreak, the military may be called upon to transport supplies and enforce quarantines, but state and local authorities will be asked to play an even larger role in the public health response.