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October 9, 2005

Surviving a killer quake in Pakistan

By Edrees Kakar

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN – When the earthquake rumbled under the ground in Pakistan Saturday, my whole school shook.

Without waiting for instructions from our teachers, we all ran from the building, terrified for our lives.

We had good reason to fear. The massive quake that registered a 7.6 on the Richter scale killed at least 19,000 people in Pakistan and Kashmir, leaving many more injured and missing.

I was lucky. My family is safe and my house is intact – so far.

The authorities have warned us that we could experience aftershocks for weeks after the original quake, particularly in the first 48 hours. They can deadly.

By Sunday afternoon, there had been more than 200 aftershocks, some measuring as much as 5.9 on the Richter scale.

Most of the aftershocks were not too strong and people could not feel them. But we really felt others.

During one of them, I was watching television as my brother slept beside me. When I felt the earth moving again, I woke my brother and got us both out of the house, fast.

But running from the house probably brings more peace of mind than safety.

The houses in my neighborhood – all two-stories high and made of concrete – are close together and small. The streets are narrow, only about five meters wide.

If a building collapsed and we were on the street next to it, it would be dangerous.

It is very difficult to go outside.

Pakistan is divided into four provinces. Our province lost at least 1,600 people and 2,000 more are injured, according to news reports here.

The quake, which was centered in the Hindu Kush mountains, struck about 96 kilometers northeast of Islamabad. The capital survived, with just one 10-story building collapsing.

But families lived there, and reports say 150 people are still underneath it. It was a new building, and residents told television reporters that it collapsed in five seconds.

Rescue teams are now trying to dig through the rubble.

At my school, we students were all inside, just in the second period of the school day, when the quake hit without warning. We all heard it and felt the school shaking. It was a very bad feeling, real dangerous.

We ran outside, and small children were crying. Everyone was scared.

After a short time, school officials told us all to go to our homes.

Though Pakistan gets an earthquake about once a year, I have never seen such an earthquake in all my life.

The news reports are saying it is the largest one in 100 years here.

In my town, only one house collapsed, and it was made of clay. But people are still waiting in fear of the aftershocks.

We cannot sleep. The first night, we got about two hours of rest. No one can sleep calmly because we’re all worried about the aftershocks.

My city was spared, with not much damage and nine people dead, but in some towns 90 percent of the houses collapsed, news reports said.

Almost all the cities nearby suffered, with only Karachi spared.

In Kashmir , there was much damage. People were taken to the hospitals for treatment and a few hours later, aftershocks collapsed some of those hospitals.

On Sunday, a family friend called my house to wake us in the middle of the night to eat before the fast begins. It is Ramadan, and as Muslims, we are fasting. We don’t eat between 5 a.m. and sundown, which is even more difficult under these circumstances.

The president of Pakistan , General Pervez Musharraf, told the people that the earthquake is a test and a challenge for the nation. He asked for international aid.

In response, other countries are coming to help. Britain , Turkey , Japan and China are among the countries sending rescue teams and many nations are sending money and other forms of aid to help Pakistan recover.


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