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South Asia earthquake: first-hand account of the earthquake

11-10-2005 Feature

Raza Hamdani, ICRC media officer in Islamabad, gives his account of the disaster that wrecked havoc throughout the region Saturday 8 October in the first hours of the morning.

   

  ©International Federation    
 
  Pakistan Red Crescent staff and volunteers helping with the rescue effort at a collapsed building in Islamabad. 
     

People were still sound asleep when suddenly they were jolted awake. At once floods of people began streaming from houses and apartment blocks, confused and staggering as repeated quakes of 7.6 on the Richter scale rocked the earth. It was Saturday, just before 9 a.m. By the time people came to their senses, the phone network was either down or jammed.

The people then referred to the media in Pakistan, which was providing up-to-the-minute information as events unfurled. The collapse of a 10-storey apartment complex in Islamabad gripped the entire nation, as thousands of people rushed to the scene to rescue those trapped in the rubble. The Islamabad authorities and the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) reached the spot without delay. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) immediately offered its support to the PRCS.

While the country was still reeling from the tragedy in Islamabad, another rude awakening was just around the corner. With news slowly trickling down from different areas, it soon became clear that Pakistan-administered Kashmir had been the worst hit, followed by NWFP (North West Frontier Province), next to the Afghan border. Meanwhile people stranded outside in the open air without shelter, food or water, were tested once again by nature when severe rain and hailstorms hit Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Islamabad.

As day turned to night, rescue workers in Islamabad, NWFP and Pakistan-administered Kashmir carried on relentlessly in their search for survivors. In the meantime, reports of hundreds of students trapped in rubble further distressed the nation; the aftershocks, 18 in number, continued to remind the people of the devastation they had seen that morning. The next day brought pain and anguish to yet more: many people originally from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but who had gone to work in the big cities, returned to their home villages to find them razed to the ground. So far the death count is calculated at 18,000: 17,000 of them in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Those left homeless who are spending their nights out in the open face still more hardship as the roads linking the areas are badly damaged and in most cases are unusable. The little aid they do receive is being flown in on army helicopters. Despite the difficulties, the ICRC has left for Pakistan-administered Kashmir with an initial consignment of emergency assistance, including tents, blankets and medical supplies. Once on the spot the first priority for the ICRC will be to assess the needs of those affected.