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'I thought it was doomsday'

By Mukhtar Ahmad In Baramulla
October 09, 2005 01:58 IST
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It was an earthquake the like of which had never been witnessed in Kashmir's living memory.

Houses shook like packs of cards and glass crumbled like frozen ice. While the actual extent of damage is still being ascertained, officials confirmed that at least 256 persons including 36 army troopers were killed and more than 700 wounded in the tremors and its aftershocks that kept rocking Jammu and Kashmir through the day. Among the wounded, 82 were army soldiers.

As the quake struck Baramulla, Haji Abdul Rahim, 70, started reciting verses from the Quran.

For four minutes, hell broke loose all around Rahim and his family.

His wife ran into the adjoining open fields even as his daughters started weeping, but Rahim maintained a stoic cool.

He would say later that he thought it was doomsday. "Quranic verses say that a massive earthquake will shake the world and I thought nothing could be more massive than this one that measured 7.4 on the Richter Scale," Haji said, as he lifted his hands in prayer to thank Allah.

"All of us must return to the creator one day and no other day looked as ominous for such a prediction coming true as this one," Haji said.

The two border districts of Baramulla and Kupwara were the worst hit. A senior police officer said, "Many houses have gapping cracks as evidence to the horror people underwent.

"Interestingly, the concrete structures took the worst beating while the traditional mud houses fared better."

The sub-district hospital in Baramulla does not have enough space for the injured brought from Uri and other villages.

The army is helping the doctors. Several hundred local residents are camping outside. Policemen with whistles cleared the main entrance as more injured were ferried in ambulances from Uri.

A team of doctors, after the initial treatment, decided to refer Jameel Ahmed, a resident of Deragutli Uri, to Srinagar for specialised treatment. His mother Sakina says they were inside their home when the house started shaking.

"It was an earthquake the like of which had never been witnessed in living memory," Sakina said, wiping the tears rolling down her cheeks.

"I rushed out, but my son had to jump from the window and was injured. Walls of our house developed cracks while homes of several neighbours collapsed. My neighbours helped me to shift Jameel to hospital."

Jameel's father Sahi Khan, who was at Rampur, said, "Everything that stood on earth seemed swaying. I saw huge rocks crashing down the mountain as the earth shook."

As aftershocks continued, panic gripped Baramulla and adjoining areas.

Even a small tremor was enough to send them scurrying into open spaces.

So was the case inĀ all other parts of the valley as traffic came to a halt and people abandoned their homes.

In Srinagar, after the first shock passed, minor tremors have been continuing with intermittent periodicity regenerating panic and chaos among the already shaken people.

The authorities took time to calibrate their response as reports of house collapses and loss of life started pouring in from Baramulla and Kupwara districts. Most of the senior officials hardly had an idea about the actual loss.

The authorities are now bracing for a massive relief and rescue operation, but landslides in the far off Tangdhar village and the closure of Srinagar Uri road due to rolling stones and cracking earth impeded rescue efforts.

All landline and mobile phone lines ran packed to their capacity as anxious parents made calls to schools in Baramulla where exams are presently on.

It was not only the humble hearted locals who ran out of houses; paramilitary troops deployed in the summer capital ran out of their bunkers and buildings to avoid being caught in a collapse.

"I was writing my exams and the answer sheet just started slipping before I could realise what was happening. I fell down from my desk," said Umi Hanny, a student at a Baramulla school.

Hovering helicopters over Srinagar gave the locals a feel of the rescue operation and the magnitude of damage.

"Allah saved us. This massive earthquake caused less damage than was warranted by its magnitude. Each tremor brought back the nightmarish memories of the Gujarat earthquake, which caused phenomenal destruction," Haji said in a soliloquy.

Heavy rains across Kashmir late on Saturday night hampered rescue efforts in north Kashmir.

"The bad weather is hampering our efforts. We hope it improves," said Kashmir divisional commissioner B B Vyas.

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Mukhtar Ahmad In Baramulla