One Year On, Kashmir Earthquake Haunts Survivors
By Sheikh Mushtaq
TEETWAL, India (Reuters) - When Begum Syeda recalls the horror of the devastating
earthquake that shook the Himalayan region of Kashmir last October, her face
turns pale and she hugs tiny Mufaid, her three-month-old son, close to her chest.
"I can feel the mountains shaking. Houses and buildings start crumbling
all around me," 35-year-old Syeda said outside the tin hut she has been
living in for almost a year.
"Whenever I think of the zalzala it sends a chill down my spine,"
she said using the local word for an earthquake.
Early on October 8 last year, the 7.6 magnitude earthquake, the worst the region
has witnessed in a century, buried Syeda and her four children under the wood
and stone that seconds before had been their sturdy mountain home.
The house had kept them safe during the worst winters, and through long years
of cross-border shelling as Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged artillery
fire near the village of Teetwal and a separatist insurgency raged.
All five were pulled from the rubble alive with few injuries after a couple
of hours as aftershocks rippled through the area. Twenty of Teetwal's 650 residents
were killed and 200 injured.
But unknown to Syeda at the time, her 40-year-old carpenter husband, Shabir
Ahmad, was killed, crushed by a falling boulder as he collected wood in a nearby
The quake killed about 73,000 people in the part of Kashmir held by Pakistan,
and nearly 1,300 in that controlled by Indian. Three million people were left
Two months later, in the middle of a freezing winter, Syeda's three-year-old
daughter caught pneumonia and died in a temporary shelter hastily constructed
to house survivors.
In Teetwal, the tragedy added to an existing sense of isolation in an area
only 45 km (30 miles) from Muzaffarabad, the main city in Pakistani Kashmir,
which bore the brunt of the earthquake, but which is often cut off for four
months by deep winter snows.
The village is 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's summer
"God snatched my dearest child and a loving husband from me. He broke
my world," whispered Syeda, dressed in an orange salwar kameez and wearing
a red headscarf.
Health officials say quake survivors are coming to terms with their losses
but many are still living with the trauma.
A year after the disaster, Syeda is haunted by her memories.
"The blood soaked bodies, destruction, screams and the strange sound of
the earthquake still haunt me day and night. I can't sleep properly," she
said, wiping away tears with dirty hands.
It is harvesting season in Kashmir, and Syeda would normally be busy in her
maize field reaping the rewards of the family's labors.
Instead she sits in her temporary shelter, living off compensation of 40,000
rupees ($875) handed out by the state government for her dead husband and child,
consoled only by the presence of Mufaid, who was conceived just before the earthquake.
"I can't think of a future yet, but I started getting better after Mufaid
was born. I'm sure God has sent this baby to help us," Syeda said.
Despite a massive relief operation by the government and non-governmental organizations,
many survivors still live in temporary shelters, tin sheds like Syeda's or relief
tents near the dusty rubble of their former homes.
Syeda's family have started building a small house for her and her children
but after laying the foundations and raising four walls they have run out of
She's not alone. Many villagers are rushing to finish the rebuilding before
another harsh winter arrives in the next few weeks. Collapsed houses still lie
among the pine trees.
"The villages ruined in the earthquake will be rebuilt as model hamlets.
So far, I am satisfied over the progress of work," said Ghulam Nabi Azad,
the chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
But it is a race against time, with money promised for rebuilding still owing
almost a year later.
Azad says full payment of 60,000 rupees for each house destroyed in the earthquake
would be distributed soon so those displaced could have a decent house to keep
warm this winter.
"Most people still live in temporary shelters. If the next installment
of relief is not released soon, survivors will live another winter in temporary
shelters," said Raja Ghulam Haider, Teetwal's deputy village head.
"This (Teetwal) is an unfortunate place," said Azam Gouse, a farmer.
"We have been living in constant fear for decades. First it was the shelling,
and now the quake has shattered our lives."
Hundreds of people were killed on both sides of the Kashmir frontier as the
armies of India and Pakistan engaged in artillery duels daily until the two
countries -- who claim Kashmir in full but rule it in parts -- agreed to a cease-fire
in November 2003.
"I hope God has something better in store for us," said Gouse.
Date/Time Last Modified: 10/5/2006 1:29:36 PM
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