(photo credit: AP)
Pakistan formally called off rescue operations Friday, but dozens of volunteers were still burrowing into the ruins of a school in this flattened northern town, hoping for a miracle.
About 50 men toiled away at the obliterated Shaheen school on the outskirts of Balakot - although some were now digging graves instead.
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"We got 25 bodies of children yesterday and buried them in a mass grave. We got seven more today," said Sayed Ahmad Hussain.
He's one of the many volunteers who have traveled from across Pakistan to help in the aftermath of last Saturday's 7.6 earthquake that is believed to have killed more than 35,000 people across a swath of the mountainous north.
The government announced Friday it had called off rescue operations, and a UN spokesman said there was a less than 1 percent chance of finding people alive from beneath the rubble of the many collapsed buildings.
"Perhaps they abandoned rescue work after feeling that no one was alive under the rubble, but we still expect miracles," Hussain said. "But the bodies we pulled out were in bad shape ... they are now decomposing."
He said their work would continue regardless.
"Is it not our duty to give a proper burial for those who are not alive?" Hussain said.
More than 200 boys and girls were thought to have been killed at the Shaheen school - one of three schools in Balakot that were destroyed in the quake.
French rescuers, who left Balakot on Thursday, said they had found five children alive in the rubble on Monday but none since.
On Friday, volunteers were preparing graves for about a dozen bodies near the school, which is surrounded by corn fields in a steep-sided valley, where helicopters carrying relief supplies periodically land on the banks of the Kunhar River.
The volunteers complained that soldiers deployed in the town were not helping them to pull out the corpses.
"We are working with iron bars to dig through the rubble, but the army is not helping us," Hussain said. "We need manpower. We need more people to get the bodies of the children."