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Archive for Monday, October 9, 2006

Pakistan cites progress on anniversary of quake

October 9, 2006

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— Sirens wailed in somber reminder and the bustling streets of this Kashmiri city fell silent for a minute Sunday as the mountainous area marked the first anniversary of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake that killed 80,000 people.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf led the somber observance in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and praised relief and reconstruction efforts.

He said despite a slow start, most of the 3.5 million people left homeless by the quake will at least have a temporary shelter as the second winter approaches since the disaster struck.

Sirens wailed across Muzaffarabad, then hundreds of people fell silent across the ruined city at 8:52 a.m. - the time the quake struck on Oct. 8, 2005.

"It is a victory for the government, for the army, for the people, for the nongovernmental organizations and for the world that supported it," Musharraf told a crowd at the city's Azad Jammu Kashmir University, which was destroyed in the quake.

In the tiny cemetery in the city, Mohammed Shafiq visited the graves of his wife and daughter, who were crushed in their home. A year later, he is among 40,000 people still living in tents.

"I don't know what is happening with my life, with the future. It seems like nothing has changed since the disaster," said the 50-year-old accountant with state-run Radio Pakistan, fighting back tears.

Mourners also gathered in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, at the site of an apartment building that collapsed in the quake, killing 74 people. They hugged each other, wept and placed flowers at the site where the building once stood.

A Kashmiri girl, Hadia Gillani, prays at the grave of her elder brother, who was killed in last year's massive earthquake, during a cemetery in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, led a somber memorial service Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people across Pakistan and India.

A Kashmiri girl, Hadia Gillani, prays at the grave of her elder brother, who was killed in last year's massive earthquake, during a cemetery in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, led a somber memorial service Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people across Pakistan and India.

Despite the devastation, clear signs of hope have emerged. Markets are bustling, children are attending class in schools set up in prefabricated buildings, and many in the quake zone have better access to health care than before.

But the task of rebuilding is a daunting one, even with pledges of $6.7 billion in aid. More than 600,000 homes, 6,500 schools and 800 clinics and hospitals were destroyed by the quake, as well as nearly 4,000 miles of roads.

In Muzaffarabad, the force of the quake toppled hundreds of buildings, trapping thousands under the rubble. It also triggered landslides that sheared thousands of tons of soil from towering mountains surrounding the city. Ghostly white scars remain on the mountain faces where the land was cut away.

Pakistani authorities say 80 percent of reconstruction will be completed within three years, but aid agencies have said it could take eight years to totally rebuild.

A leading relief group, the Norwegian Refugee Council, described the government-led handling of the quake "as a blueprint for natural disaster response."

"But the IDPs (internally displaced people) we continue to serve tell us that the job is not over yet," said Kirsten Zaat, spokeswoman for the council's Pakistan-based operations. "Substantial humanitarian needs remain, and a predictably harsh Himalayan winter is just around the corner."

On Friday, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush appealed for nearly $100 million in aid for survivors of last year's South Asia earthquake. Bush is the U.N. envoy to promote help for survivors of the quake.

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