Recalling 8 October 2005 By: Parsa Bukhari
It was October 8, 2005 – a Saturday when a violent shaking of the earth’s surface begun, when I was playing with my youngest brother. There was an ear-splitting sound, amid unrelenting jolts, and I was eventually tossed on to the floor. The first thing came to my mind was that probably doomsday has arrived – I started reciting Kalma e Shahadat. I was witnessing the disastrous earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale in the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir – Muzaffarabad which was among the most destructed city of Azad Kashmir along with Balakot, Bagh and Battagram. After about a minute when I managed to rise to my feet, everything was engulfed by clouds of dust, emanating from the mountain across the river as (a huge portion of) it had also caved in. The clouds of dust completely marred visibility and people were unable to see anything in front of them, let alone at a distance, for quite some time. When the dust settled, the survivors in our neighborhood rushed to look for their dear ones buried beneath the fallen buildings. After a moment, I could clearly look into people's houses because walls were missing. But instead of families, there were just smashed plates and clothes tumbling out of cupboards. Blood was spattered across the road. The faces of my family and friends flooded my mind. I thought about the city, with its tall buildings. Could it possibly have withstood this earthquake? After about 2 hours, a man arrived from main city who was like my angel sent from heaven. He knew my parents and he told me he had seen them alive. After an hour, I saw my mother bare footed coming towards me that was the moment when I felt that I am alive… In some places, whole sections of towns slid off cliffs and entire families were killed. The Muzaffarabad area suffered severe devastation, and the town of Balakot in the North-West Frontier Province was almost completely destroyed. The quake occurred just before the onset of the region’s harsh winter, exacerbating the disaster’s effects. In addition, landslides wiped out large numbers of the region’s roads, making many of the damaged areas inaccessible to relief workers in the immediate aftermath. The earthquake wiped out a number of towns and villages completely from the face of the earth in northern part of the country. The population in the affected areas including the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi observed hundreds of aftershocks for over two months after October 8 in 2005. According to estimates, not less than 200 thousand persons were affected directly and suffered physical losses by the violent shaking of the earth’s crust. October 8, 2005 was a day when the PTCL left working and the mobile phone service was almost of no use due to the heaviest load on the networks at least for five hours after nine in the morning as most of the PTCL and mobile phone consumers were dialing again and again numbers to know the fortunes of their relatives in the aftermath of the earthquake. Before the earthquake, the telecom sector in AJK was monopolized by Special Communications Organisation (SCO); its cellular phone service was limited and erratic. Collapse of landline telecom system and erratic cell phone coverage delayed rescue work during the earthquake. The earthquake brought a significant change in the lives of millions of people in the affected areas while convinced the concerned government authorities to devise policies to minimise losses in case of like disasters in future. The severity of the earthquake and the level of destruction it caused can be gauged from the fact that the rehabilitation in one or the other way is still in process in the affected areas. The earthquake damaged almost the whole infrastructure in the affected areas including Bagh, Rawlakot and Muzaffarabad in AJK and Balakot and Kaghan valley along with a number of other towns in the northern mountainous range of the country. The first to respond to the event was the general public, as well over 300 relief camps were set up by representatives from among the general public even on the same day, October 8, in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The earthquake proved the existing health infrastructure at that time a failure exposing incapability of hospitals to manage the extraordinary load of victims though donations from public and NGOs helped the hospitals a lot in managing victims. Within hours after the quake, the hospitals from Rawalpindi to Jhelum and to Sialkot and even up to Sargodha started receiving heavy burden of victims. The influx of victims reaching allied hospitals in town from the worst affected areas did not lower for nearly two months. The allied hospitals in town received well over 700 victims just within a single day after the earthquake while in two months, the number of victims who reached allied hospitals from the worst hit areas in need of inward treatment had crossed the figure of 5500. Well over 2000 major surgeries including complex surgeries involving compound fractures (fractures with open wounds) and plastic surgeries were performed at the allied hospitals. It was, however, a pride for general public while mentioning that none of the allied hospitals in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi faced shortage of blood pints in the aftermath of earthquake and it was all due to public response. Almost all public sector hospitals in the region provided meals and various types of foods to earthquake victims and their attendants with the help of public donations for over two months after the quake. One who witnessed the day like me in the northern region of the country in senses can hardly wipe out the memories of the destruction, the earthquake caused. Considered as the worst ever disaster in the region over a hundred years of history, in all, more than 87,000 people died as a result of the quake and an estimated 2 million others were left homeless and another four million severely affected in one way or the other. The earthquake brought the worst ever disaster in the areas stretching from Muzaffarabad to Balakot, Battagram, Bagh and Rawalakot in Azad Kashmir through a violent shaking of the earth’s surface. Despite destruction, Earthquake of October 8, 2005 has shown the generosity of whole nation. The way people donated wholeheartedly and helped voluntarily will never be forgotten. There is no denying from the fact that, October 8, 2005 earthquake brought a huge disaster but provided opportunity to public to record a rare show of devotion to be remembered for years.