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South Asia earthquake: a day in Chakothi

28-10-2005 Feature

From the ICRC chopper we see a dreadful and graphic pattern of destruction: collapsed homes with tin roofs, buildings smashed, roads cut by landslides and fallen rocks and, from time to time, houses still standing with an air of normality.

Chakothi is a district deep in the Jhelum valley located very close to the line of control. Now only accessible by helicopter, Chakothi town is surrounded by mountains where farmers live and manage to cultivate corn along terraced fields.
 
What we don't see from the sky becomes very quickly apparent once on the ground.
 
The centre of town is very gloomy, evoking a ghost town. Most buildings - the post office, shops, schools and homes – have been flattened. We meet a doctor from the Pakistani army who has set up a field clinic that has treated more than 800 patients over the last two weeks. The most seriously injured are evacuated for more intensive treatment.
 
" I take more time for the younger ones " is his way of summing up the dilemma he faces. He shows us a smashed building, a school where ten girls and two teachers died. Among the rubble lies the debris of youth and daily life: shoes, school notebooks - one with a clown on the cover and, in the middle of this deadly pile of stones, one thing is still standing: the blackboard a silent witness to what this building once was.

   
  ©ICRC/J. Björgvinsson/pk-e-00091    
 
Victims of the earthquake in front of their destroyed home    
     

While we walk around we see people on their way out of town. They are carrying their belongings and making their way towards a bus station that may still be functioning nineteen kilometres away. From here, they hope to make it to Rawalpindi.
 
In the army clinic, the ICRC doctor discusses various medical issues and follows up with the doctor in charge. Two cases identified for medical evacuation include a 12 year old boy with a broken femur. The boy is stoic; his face a testament to dignity. His bearded father remains close by his side.
 
Later, at sunset, we are on the helicopter and I watch the boy again. He is lying on the stretcher looking at the sky and the landscape. In an hour, he should be in the operating theatre at the ICRC's field hospital in Muzaffarabad. His father is still on the ground looking up at the chopper.
 
Climbing up into the air, the destroyed villages become smaller. The people are still struggling to come to terms with this disaster.
 
Just before we took off a young man asked " What's the aim of our life now? "