It was a quiet morning on the 8th of October, 2005, around 8:50 am, when the earth began to shake. I still remember the day so well. It was Ramadan so it meant that everyone stayed up until Suhoor and woke up late during the day. My younger brother had kept his first fast the day before so all of my family was over to celebrate and we had a big feast for iftar the day before. The room was full of my cousins, sleeping wherever they could find a spot. When the earth began to shake, we woke up in shock and ran outside. It was my first ever time experiencing an earthquake and it was extremely scary. My mother and khalas tried to make sure that no one was left behind in the rooms. We all sat in the big courtyard of our house and recited all the duas we could remember, still recovering from our sleep. The shaking of the earth was scary enough but the sound of earth grumbling from underneath made me shiver in fear. We could hear the dishes in our kitchen clanking together as we held each other tightly. After a few minutes which seemed like an eternity, the shaking stopped. We thought that was all, the end of it. The trauma started when we switched on the Television and the news of catastrophe from across the country began to pour in.
The earthquake had a 7.6 magnitude, originating from near the city of Muzaffarabad, severely affecting not just northern Pakistan but also neighbouring countries like Afghanistan and China. It was the deadliest earthquake to hit any country in South Asia since 1953. The first shock was when we learnt that the Margalla towers in Sector F10 in Islamabad had collapsed. The fear and pain and unimaginable. Rescue teams had surrounded the area, working as fast as they could to recover people from under the rubble.
Kashmir and its surrounding areas were hit the most. The earthquake wreaked havoc in the beautiful valley. So many houses were completely destroyed, lives lost and everything changed, just in a matter of a few split seconds. The worst part was that while the nation was still trying to recover from this catastrophic incident, there were numerous aftershocks, some of which were very severe. Over 3 million people became homeless and the officially recorded death toll was 87,350 while it is said that the estimated figure was over 100,000. The entire nation was mournful. There was news of death and damage all around and it was as if nothing will ever be better again.
It is one of the most difficult times we have experienced as a nation but something I vividly remember from that time is the way everyone came forward to help! It is true to say that Pakistanis are extremely big hearted & compassionate. People from across the country came forward to help in whatever way they could. The passion to help was commendable. I still remember people that barely had enough to make their own ends meet, but still offered whatever little that they had. Since it was October and the weather was very cold, especially in Kashmir, people donated their blankets, quilts and warm clothing. It was a minor relief to witness this sense of compassion , it was a brief moment of warmth for our aching hearts. The Pakistan army also played a very significant role in this difficult time and played an active part in helping the survivors and providing them with basic health care.
If there is one word to perfectly describe Pakistan as a nation, it has to be relisiance. We always find a way to come out of every mishap, stronger than before. Life also moved on for everyone and the survivors from the earthquake found a way to rebuild their lives again, little by little. Almost a decade later, I was driving to work with a colleague and she seemed quieter than usual. Upon inquiring, she told me that she missed her brother and his wife who she had lost many years ago due to the earthquake in 2005. It made me realise that the pain of that unfortunate day continues to be a constant part of so many people’s lives. May our beloved Pakistan never witness another morning as destructive and painful as the 8th of October, 2005.