November 13, 2005
Pakistan: Notes from the quake zone
BY Jackie Bennion
Back in August, David Montero wrote a vivid dispatch for us from Bangladesh about the plight of garment workers; in particular, what happened following the pancake collapse of a nine-story garment factory outside Dhaka that left 61 dead and wounded more than 100 others.
Some of you wrote to tell us how moved you were by his account of families affected by the collapse and the shoddy unregulated construction exposed by the accident.
Now Montero's in Pakistan reporting on the earthquake that struck the north of the country on October 8. So far, it's killed around 80,000 people.
In the next few days, we will post another of Montero's reports when he visits the leveled town of Balakot in Northern Pakistan, until a month ago a stunning Himalayan destination sought out by tourists. But before that, we'd like to share an email he sent a couple of days ago from Islamabad, just before heading back north to the hardest-hit areas.
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I hope this finds you all well. I'm writing to you from Islamabad. I've spent the last week in northern Pakistan, touring Balakot, Muzaffarabad and several other towns in and around the quake zone.
Balakot rose in the 1970s, becoming a hub for tourists, bringing with it a new, albeit limited, sense of prosperity for the people who lived there. All that is now gone, and the people of Balakot are left wondering what their town will be -- or if it will be.
I spoke with several village elders about the history of the town and how it changed, what it used to be like. Most now feel they have returned to where they started from 30 years ago. I thought it would be important to pay homage to what the town was, since that's not something I've seen discussed in the media -- and since the town is probably forever lost.
I was deeply affected by this sense of returning to square one, most poignantly symbolized by a father who returned from his job in the Middle East to bury his three children.
As I walked deeper into the town, I found that people there have not so much a broken spirit as a renewed sense of God's presence, or perhaps his wrath. Their faith is only strengthened by what has befallen them there, they say.
Along the way, it was hard not to notice what a large and reassuring presence the Islamist parties have been, doling out food and aid in well organized camps. Their streamlined organization contrasts tellingly with the scattered operations of the army, and most of the survivors I spoke with had nothing nice to say about the government's response.
I'll be traveling tomorrow to some of the remote, inaccessible areas in the North.
All the best,
Read Montero's full report and see images from the region.