- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

KARACHI, Pakistan — For the three anchors on Pakistan’s PTV morning news, the only thing to do was join the nation in prayer.

As a violent two-minute earth tremor shook their studio sets in midbroadcast, they broke off their discussion, held their hands aloft and began chanting verses from the Koran.

The massive earthquake that struck Pakistan just before 9 a.m. local time yesterday was the worst in two decades and devastated homes and buildings across hundreds of square miles and left a death toll that officials fear will run into the thousands.

In Islamabad, scores of people were feared dead after two 12-story blocks of apartments collapsed, leaving an enormous pile of concrete and twisted metal.

“I saw it collapse like one of those staged demolitions you see on television,” said Qaiser Rasul, who lived opposite the building.

Sabahat Ahmed, a resident of one of the blocks, added: “The quake jolted me awake, and I saw people running down the staircase. As the building was collapsing, people were still coming out from it. I heard and saw various people in a state of panic and many [were] stuck.”

Crowds tried frantically to dig through the towers’ remains with their bare hands, plucking dust-covered survivors from piles of bloodstained masonry.

Rescuers worked throughout the night to search for others, many of whom were thought to have been in their beds when the quake hit.

Around the collapsed towers, police and troops had to hold back crowds of locals desperate to search among the rubble for relatives.

“My brother is inside,” screamed a 16-year-old girl, who was among the onlookers.

“I just cannot say how many people are still under there, and we are trying to evacuate them,” said Mohammed Ali, a government official in Islamabad. “Over 75 apartments were affected, so the number of people is in the hundreds.”

Residents have long been accustomed to earth tremors in the area, which lies on a fault line, where the tectonic plate of the Indian subcontinent pushes north into the Eurasian plate — the same action that pushed up the neighboring Himalayas millions of years ago.

But as windows shattered and pictures and ceiling fans were hurled to the floor, it became clear that this was not a routine tremor.

One eyewitness described looking out of a window and seeing the telephone poles and lampposts “dancing” across the city.

A series of aftershocks raised tensions further, with residents keeping an anxious eye on the city’s flocks of crows which, according to local legend, are believed to fall silent immediately before an earthquake.

The panic that accompanied each aftershock also hampered the efforts of rescue teams, whose overloaded ambulances had to force their way through stampeding crowds. Some victims were ferried to hospitals on the back of mopeds.

Yesterday’s tragedy occurred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and left many looking for answers not in the ground but in the heavens.

“I guess it is a symbol of God’s wrath that on this Ramadan, He brought about this horrific earthquake,” Shymla Khan, from the Pakistani city of Lahore, told the British Broadcasting Corp. “Maybe we are not worthy of His blessings.”

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