Saturday October 8, 2005 was a holiday and I was fast asleep having slept very late at night when a powerful jolt almost threw me out of my bed. Earthquake ! I yelled and all my family ran out of the house. Once outside everyone wanted to know hoe deadly was the quake. And then the gravity of the quake dawned on TV.
It started off with the collapse of Margalla Towers in Islamabad - but since no other damage reports had been received form elsewhere, everyone thought all was OK. But it wasn't.
Up in the northern areas of Pakistan and Kashmir, still unknown to many, something terrible has had happened. Villages after villages had perished as the 7.6 Richter scale strong earthquake had hit Balakot, Mansehra, Muzzaffarabad and adjoining areas. In just few second almost 79,000 people had scummed to the quake, while it rendered 3-4 million homeless.
Pakistan Army reacted very promptly and soon thousands of soldiers were on their way to the northern areas with earth removing equipment, medicines, tents and relief good. The devastation had been enormous. The casualties were four times more than the Tsunami that struck parts of Asia and Indonesia. While access of aid workers and rescuers to Tsunami affected areas was swift owing to its flat terrain and generally coastal areas, the relief work in one of the most rugged mountain terrain of Pakistan had been a tough challenge for the Pakistan Army and other relief workers. Most of the areas were only accessible by helicopters since all roads gave away to landslides.
It was ironic that world reacted to Tsunami with over 4000 helicopters and thousands of rescue and relief workers, but when more devastation occurred in Pakistan, only a handful of helicopters could be spared by world community, not even totaling 50.
The earthquake affected areas were suffering from extremes of winter cold and snow fall (6 out of the 10 world's highest mountains are in this region). The 4 million people were left to shiver and die in the absence of meaningful aid, specially the temporary hutments and shelters. Due to the inaccessibility of the area to heavy earth removing machinery, most of the dead remained buried under the rubble for a long time- the stench of dead bodies could still be felt in the "cemented grave yards" for many weeks.
I was on leave on that day, but I hurriedly rushed back to my place of duty and I found our hospital full of injured - majority needing immediate major surgery as these had multiple fractures all over their bodies. Since all hospitals were loaded with the injured, we had to rely on only one surgeon, Colonel Taseer, who assisted by other doctors worked day and night, operating upon the injured and fixing their fractures one after the other. But the casualties kept pouring in for another week, till more space was created in major hospitals.
I remember two brothers from Muzzaffarabad who had their both legs fractured but they braved their pain with smiles and determination.
Much has been done to restore the quake hit areas. New buildings and schools have come up with new roads made and the work still continues. But the wounds of the soul will never be able to heal as those who lost their near and dear ones will never forget that dreadful day when wrath of nature fell on them.
Let us all pray that we be saved from such calamities and the wounds of the soul be healed of those who suffered.
Read more about it in Pakistanpaedia