Azhar Masood & Huma Aamir Malik, Arab News
ISLAMABAD, 9 October 2005 – A massive earthquake struck South Asia triggering landslides, toppling an apartment building and flattening villages of mud-brick homes near the border between Pakistan and India yesterday, killing several thousand people in a wide swath of devastation. Pakistan’s dead included 400 schoolchildren crushed by rubble when their schools collapsed, and 200 soldiers on duty in Pakistani Kashmir. For hours, aftershocks from the 7.6-magnitude quake rippled across the region as rescue teams struggled to clear piles of debris in a desperate search for survivors. Hospitals evacuated quake victims, some hooked up to intravenous drips, onto their lawns, fearing tremors could cause more damage. As night fell, rain and hail disrupted the recovery effort.
Pakistan absorbed most of the destruction. In the northern town of Mansehra, a shopowner named Haji Fazal Ilahi stood vigil over the body of his 14-year-old daughter, which lay under a sheet on a hospital mattress. He said his wife, a daughter and a brother also perished in the debris of their home.
“I could see rocks and homes tumbling down the mountains,” said Ilahi, who was driving to his village of Garlat when the quake struck. “When I reached my village, there was nothing left of my home.”
In a show of solidarity, India offered assistance and condolences to its longtime rival, Pakistan. The neighbors, who are engaged in a peace process, have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over the divided region of Kashmir that was devastated in the quake.
“While parts of India have also suffered from this unexpected natural disaster, we are prepared to extend any assistance with rescue and relief which you may deem appropriate,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a message to Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. A senior Pakistani Army official said 200 soldiers died in Pakistani Kashmir. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. About 1,000 civilians died in the region, said Sardar Mohammed Anwar, the top government official in the area.
“This is my conservative guess, and the death toll could be much higher,” Anwar told Pakistan’s Aaj television station. He said most homes in Muzaffarabad, the area’s capital, were damaged, and schools and hospitals collapsed.
At least 1,600 people died in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, said Akram Durrani, the province’s top elected official. Ataullah Khan Wazir, police chief in the northwestern district of Mansehra, said authorities there pulled the bodies of 250 students from a girls’ school that collapsed. “This tragic incident happened in Ghari Habibibullah,” a district village, he said. About 500 students were injured. Dozens of children were feared killed in other schools.
In the capitals of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, buildings shook and walls swayed for about a minute, and panicked people ran from their homes and offices. Communications throughout the region were cut.”It is a national tragedy,” said Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan’s chief army spokesman. “This is the worst earthquake in recent times.” He put the casualty figure in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir at several thousand dead.
The United Nations said it was working with Pakistan, Afghanistan and India on an emergency response to the quake. The US Geological Survey said on its website that the quake hit at 8:50 a.m. local time and had a magnitude of 7.6. It was centered about 95 kilometers northeast of Islamabad in the forested mountains of Pakistani Kashmir.
Damage was extensive in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory divided between India and Pakistan. Officials in the Indian-controlled portion reported at least 250 people killed, including 20 soldiers who perished in a landslide. At least 800 people were injured and about 2,700 homes were destroyed or damaged across Jammu-Kashmir, said senior state official B.B. Vyas.
Army soldiers and local volunteers rescued people from under the debris of collapsed houses. Telephone lines were down. Bridges had developed cracks, but traffic was passing over them. Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz ordered the Pakistani military to extend “all-out help” to quake-hit areas and appealed to the nation to stay calm. Helicopters and C-130 transport planes took troops and supplies to damaged areas, but landslides were hindering rescue efforts.
The quake brought down a 10-story apartment building in Islamabad, and at least 10 people died. The dead included an Egyptian diplomat, hospital doctors said. The Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said two Japanese were among the dead. At least 126 survivors were being treated in hospitals. A man named Rehmatullah who lived nearby said he saw dust from the buckled building from his bathroom window. “I rushed down, and for some time you could not see anything because of the dust. Then we began to look for people in the rubble,” he said. “We pulled out one man by cutting off his legs.”
“It was like hell,” said Nauman Ali, who lived in a nearby top-floor apartment. “I was tossed up in my bed and the ceiling fan struck against the roof.” Aided by two large cranes, hundreds of police and soldiers helped remove chunks of concrete, one of which was splattered with blood. One rescue worker said he initially heard faint cries from people trapped in the rubble. In Abbotabad, north of Islamabad, dozens of injured quake victims and other patients lay on the lawn of the city hospital as staff with loudspeakers appealed to the public for food and other relief supplies.
One of the injured was an 8-year-old boy, Qadeer, whose father, a farmer named Jehangir, said the only buildings left standing in their village were a mosque and a school. Qadeer lay unconscious, his right leg heavily bandaged. Authorities brought dozens of bodies to a damaged sports stadium in Muzaffarabad, and laid them on the ground under sheets.
In eastern Afghanistan, an 11-year-old girl was crushed to death when a wall in her home collapsed, said police official Gafar Khan. US military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said the quake was felt at Bagram, the main American base in Afghanistan, but he had no reports of damage at bases around the country. The quake also jolted parts of Bangladesh, but no casualties or damage were reported there.
This is an old story published on Arab News; for the readers i found it very touchy and true commentary.