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South Asia earthquake: a diary of disaster

20-10-2005 Feature

ICRC employee, Raza Hamdani has been closely involved in the relief efforts in relation to the South Asia earthquake and kept a diary of events in the days following the disaster.

 Tuesday 11 October  

  © ICRC/J. Björgvinsson/PK-E-00004    
  Muzaffarabad, 13.10.2005. 

The earthquake has shaken the whole nation, myself included. When it happened on Saturday, I was holding my one year old daughter in bed waiting for the fates to decid e whether we should survive.

Colleagues began contacting me from the ICRC's Islamabad delegation where I work as a media relations officer. Communication Coordinator, Layla Berlemont, was in almost constant touch for updates on the magnitude of the damage.

Today, I and other colleagues including field health delegate, Dr Jorma and the Head of the ICRC's Water and Habitat department, Ricardo Conti, left for Muzaffarabad by road. During our journey we were looking out for signs of any damage. We didn't see any at first. We talked about our plan of action once we reached the area and we had ample time on our hands with our progress considerably slowed due to landslides on Kohala Road.

After a 7 hour journey that normally takes only 3 to 4 hours, we were just 4 kilometres away from the main city of Muzaffarabad. We still had not witnessed any damage which could point towards the disaster. Then suddenly, we saw camps on the roadside and children and older people came to greet us. Homeless with only basic rations and clothing, these people were seeking reassurance and help.

Upon reaching Muzaffarabad the devastation was obvious. With the stench of corpses still buried underneath the rubble, I could feel the helplessness and hopelessness of the people in the area. Once brightly lit it was now in darkness. The city whose streets were once abuzz was almost deserted with just a few cars trying to get out of the city. People were walking but with no destination in mind. They were looking intently at the passing cars hoping that they were bringing emergency supplies.

We finally reached the ICRC office, where the cracks in the walls told their own story of the disaster.

 Wednesday 12 October  

The night was not comforting.

There were numerous aftershocks but two particularly strong ones brought back memories of Saturday morning. The shocks were powerful enough to keep me awake.

The next morning we were all up very early ready to head to the field. Dr Jorma was planning to look at the site selected to host the relief operation and a 100 bed field hospital.

Ricardo Conti spent the day studying Muzaffarabad's water supply system.

To try to make sense of the situation, I began my day with a tour of the city. Its two hotels were razed to the ground. The stench near the Neelum viewpoint Hotel was almost unbearable – its reception still intact but full of swollen bodies.

  © ICRC/J. Björgvinsson/PK-E-00004    
  Muzaffarabad, Neelum Stadium. Distribution of blankets to the population, 13.10.2005 

At different points of the city, food and other basic necessities were being distributed to increasingly desperate people.

I went back to the cricket stadium where the ICRC team was discussing final plans for an initial distribution of blankets, shawls and tarpaulins for 2,500 people.

 Thrusday 13 October  


The ICRC team was at the cricket stadium at 7.30 a.m. waiting for the helicopter and trucks to arrive. The helicopter, hired by the ICRC to expedite the arrival of relief goods, was the first to arrive with blankets and medical kits. The crowd started to gather at the gates of the stadium waiting for the distribution to start. Trucks loaded with more relief items arrived from Abbotabad, where the ICRC has set up a logistics centre.

The relief was distributed to 400 families or 2,500 persons.

 Friday 14 October  

" I saw the walls shaking and I pulled the blanket back on my face and recited the kalima, " said Rizwan who was working with his family to rescue whatever they could from the rubble which was once his house in Muzaffarabad.

Tears rolled down his cheeks while his father stared ahead. Rizwan showed me the bed where his 12 years old sister was sleeping when the earth shook and left her dead. Still hanging up by the side of the bed was her ironed school uniform.

Such stories are common in Muzaffarabad the area worst hit by the quake. Today, the ICRC helicopter began to evacuate the injured from Saran, a town 35 kilometres from Muzaffarabad. The ICRC evacuated more than 80 people during the day, mostly women and children. A stadium turned helipad was busy with machines landing and taking off with scores of survivors being brought in.

The ICRC's aim was to evacuate as many people as possible from Saran before dusk set in. Dr Jorma tried to assess the injured as quickly as he could. A little girl called Shirin, who was about two years old, arrived with her mother. Shirin had broken her right leg and the pain was clearly visible on her face. Scared to see all these new faces, her mother tried to comfort her. But after 30 minutes Shirin's leg was plastered and for the first time her face broke into a smile. All is not yet lost.

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