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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 June 2007, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
'We are still counting the bodies'
By Syed Shoaib Hasan, BBC News

Wreckage on Karachi street, Sunday 24 June 2007
Many deaths were caused by falling billboards

"It was the worst storm I have seen in my life," said Arman Sabir.

"It was the winds more than rains... they just levelled everything in their path."

Mr Sabir is a journalist in the Pakistani city of Karachi, a witness to the gale-force winds which struck at 1700 local time on Saturday.

"Everybody just ran for cover when the storm started," said Arshad, another city resident.

He said the wreckage on Karachi's main thoroughfare, Sharah-e-Faisal, was staggering.

Storms are a regular feature in this part of the world as the monsoon approaches.

Karachi, despite being Pakistan's largest city and its commercial centre, has always been plagued with decrepit infrastructure and poor civic planning.

This generally leads to death and destruction as the monsoon season hits, with the main culprits being flooded roads and falling power cables.

It was like a video game, and every turn seemed like a higher level
Imran Yousuf

This time, however, many of the fatalities were caused by other problems.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that fallen billboards, hoardings and poles littered the road, leading to massive traffic jams.

"The destruction was nothing like I have seen in my life in Karachi," said Saad Sayeed, a Karachi-born visitor from Toronto.

"The sky went grey, the rain started coming down and then everything started to quiver in the face of the storm."

Many of the city areas were also without power and residents say they had to spend the night in sweltering heat.

But the destruction did not just lead to traffic jams and power outages.

'Shaking violently'

Remains of wrecked car, Karachi, Sunday 24 June 2007
Falling masonry crushed cars in Karachi's streets

Aid workers say most of the initial fatalities were due to fallen billboards and hoardings.

"I had reached Sharah-e-Faisal at around 1630 when it began," said Imran Yousuf, an executive.

"The motorcyclists immediately stopped and moved to the side of the road as it was impossible for them to move."

He says that the traffic was very slow and billboards were lying everywhere.

"At one point the traffic came to a halt, and I was right next to a big billboard that was shaking violently," Mr Yousuf says.

"I was so scared... I just ran out of the car."

The billboard did not fall, and Mr Yousuf says he reversed his car and got out as fast as he could.

But many others were not so lucky.

Aid workers say they have recovered dozens of bodies crushed by fallen hoardings.

"We are still counting the bodies, and we expect them to increase," said Rizwan Edhi, head of a local emergency service.

As the toll continued to rise during the night, it was apparent Karachi could be facing a major emergency.

That was confirmed when the toll climbed to more than 200 dead.

The highest toll from a single area so far has come from the north-western Gadap locality, with 20 confirmed dead.

Collapsing houses

Aid workers and correspondents say that the sudden rise in the death toll is due to the fact that many areas remained cut off from the city centre overnight.

They also add that the later fatalities were due to collapsing houses and walls in the city's numerous shanty towns.

More than half of Karachi's 15 million-strong population lives in such areas, where buildings are usually constructed using poor materials.

"My own house escaped damage when part of a tree outside fell on the gate," said Mr Sabir.

Mr Yousuf also counts himself lucky as he was able to reach home unscathed.

"It was like a video game, and every turn seemed like a higher level," he said. "I felt euphoric when I reached home late at night."

Many, however, were not so lucky.

Storms in Karachi kill 228 people
24 Jun 07 |  South Asia
In pictures: Karachi rain chaos
24 Jun 07 |  In Pictures
Protests over Karachi power cuts
19 Jun 07 |  South Asia

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