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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 October 2005, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Muzaffarabad: Dazed and angry
By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News website, Muzaffarabad

A group of people are gathered around a huge pile of rubble.

Army digger
Locals feel very strongly let down

Some are digging frantically, others just standing there, looking dazed.

"Yes, at least four," says one of them when I ask if the people buried underneath could still be alive.

It has been more than 24 hours.

One of them pulls me down to the ground and motions to the others. A hush descends on the crowd.

"You can hear them," he whispers. "Only two of them are talking now, the other two are probably too tired."

People come rushing to me from all around, each with a story to tell - a story of death, more death and yet more death - that seems to have lost its horror simply from being told so often. Or for being so real
Or dead. But that is not what even a single person among the rapidly growing crowd is willing to say.

In the ghost town of Muzaffarabad - the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir - one of the few things left alive, it seems, is hope.

But it may be fighting a losing battle.

Thousands have fled already. On the badly damaged road to this unfortunate city, hundreds of people can be seen heading out.

Men, women and children - each clasping a bundle containing whatever belongings they could salvage from their devastated homes.

It must be the camera that gives me away.

People come rushing to me from all around, each with a story to tell - a story of death, more death and yet more death - that seems to have lost its horror simply from being told so often. Or for being so real.

Closer to Muzaffarabad, an old couple sits by the roadside. They seem utterly disinterested in what is going on around them.

The bastards want us to be a part of Pakistan," a young man spits out the words as if he had never intended them to taste his tongue
Too tired, it seems, to care any more. One look at them and it is obvious that they have nothing more to lose and little to live for.

One more? Two days ago, Dilawar Khan was an aggressive and energetic man - a leading cloth merchant whose shop was bursting at the seams with smuggled cloth.

Today, he is begging everyone with a car to lend him a hand. He wants the dead bodies of his four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter taken to his native village in Mansehra.

He could do little to save their lives. He now seems determined to give them a decent burial. I saw him several hours later, he was still begging.

Meaningless figures

"The Kashmir Earthquake" is not a story that can be told in numbers. Twenty thousand dead? What does it mean?

Perhaps it would make sense to ask the living. But they do not seem to be interested.

The only thing that brings fire to their eyes is a mention of the government.

"The bastards want us to be a part of Pakistan," a young man spits out the words as if he had never intended them to taste his tongue.

The army has moved in. In Pakistan, some two dozen ministers and military spokesmen are working overtime telling Pakistanis that a massive rescue effort has been launched already.

View of damage in Muzaffarabad
The devastation is widespread
They are lucky that the road network is down. Not many can put their claim to the test.

Not that the army - having suffered serious losses itself - is not doing whatever it can.

The problem is that it just cannot cope with the scale of the devastation.

The entire infrastructure of the city has collapsed. There is no electricity, no telephones, water and food are running out and medicines simply unavailable.

The city's main bazaar is totally devastated, and only a few partially damaged buildings are left standing.

And the aftershocks continue, not allowing a terrified population to venture into the ruins of what was home only two days ago.

It is just one of those situations it seems. Everyone is doing whatever they can. Yet whatever they do, is simply not enough.
The army's emphasis is on dropping medical and food supplies in far-flung areas - none of them reachable by road as yet.

Clearly, they feel there are still enough left standing in Muzaffarabad to fend for themselves and the survivors.

And the volunteers have rallied in a big way - ill-equipped, hungry and tired citizens who have never seen anything like this before.

There are those who are busy digging graves but they cannot seem to dig fast enough. Some 30 hours after the first tremors, bodies are now simply lying around.

The sun can still be very hot at this time of the year in this low-lying valley. Not long before putrefaction also becomes an issue.

Everyone blames the government for its poor response. But that may be more out of anger, grief and shock than anything else.

The devastation is too widespread, too overwhelming.

It is just one of those situations, it seems. Everyone is doing whatever they can.

Yet whatever they do, is simply not enough.


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