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An earthquake happens when two tectonic plates that have been gaining tension over millions of years suddenly release their energy in a single explosive burst that lasts less than a minute. Earthquakes can be very destructive. The 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit Pakistan on October 8, 2005 was one of the worst natural disasters in the last 100 years. lt_killed more people than the earthquakes that hit Bam, Iran in 2003 and Nias, Indonesia in early 2005. The Pakistani Government estimated that 87,350 lives were lost, while a further 100,000 people were injured. According to the United Nations, 2.5 million people were left homeless.


Those who experienced this massive earthquake in Pakistan and survived would later describe hearing "the sound of distant thunder" moments before the ground began to shake violently under their feet. Seconds before it was heard, eyewitnesses reported that birds flew away, dogs started barking and domestic animals appeared upset. Those were the first warning signs. As the ground started to shake more violently, trees started swaying, people lost their balance, buildings crumbled into piles of dust and roads were buried under landslides.


Months earlier, a sudden shifting of two tectonic plates on the ocean bed had created giant waves as high as coconut trees that destroyed Aceh in Indonesia. Bodies lay everywhere, carried by the waves and left behind as the water gradually receded. However, in Pakistan, the devastation caused by the earthquake was very different. The earthquake did not begin under the sea but 26km beneath the mountains. The violent shaking of the ground destroyed whole towns and villages and tremors were felt as far away as in Afghanistan.


A villager in Pakistan, Mian Kursheed, spoke of how 80 per cent of the people in his village were killed. Another man, Pervez Khan, described how a high school collapsed and was reduced to rubble with 300 students still trapped inside. "None of them came out. They are still in there. There is nobody to dig them out because even their families are dead." One student, Aniqa Rani, recalled the tragedy: "The walls shuddered, and within seconds the whole school was brought down." For Aniqa, the earthquake left memories too painful to forget. At her school alone, 328 students were killed. It was the same elsewhere in the region.


The immediate rescue work was hard. The locals who volunteered to be rescuers faced tremendous difficulties in finding survivors. The transportation system had come to a stop and roads could not be used. There were no machines to lift the heavy debris like concrete slabs. They set to work using basic tools like pick-axes and sledgehammers to break the slabs. However, it was very slow progress because the sledgehammers could hardly crack the heavy concrete slabs. It took ten workers about three hours to remove one body. These rescuers were the true heroes of the earthquake.


The Pakistani army could only arrive at the hard hit areas for the rescue work one hour after the earthquake hit. A few hours later, international rescuers began to arrive in Pakistan. Aid from various international non-governmental organizations, including MERCY Malaysia, began to pour in. With their presence and commitment, the rescue efforts became more organised and systematic.



Adapted from New Straits Times, 2005