TNF Kashmir quake update: "Their faces blank, their eyes drained of all expression"

Posted: Dec 08, 2005 02:46 pm EST

( Willie Benegas has updated from Indian Kashmir, where he is leading a team of The North Face climbers to help in earthquake-affected areas. Willie's latest is perhaps the most powerful entry ever on the North Face website.

This was published in the local newspaper, and I was so taken by the desperation and the reality of this article that, with the permission of my friend Muzamil Jaleel I will like to share with everyone, writes Willie.

Is there anybody out there?

KAMALKOTE, URI (LOC), OCTOBER 10: Two days on, as Saturdays earthquake begins to reveal more and more of deaths footprints, this one is the most stark. High up in the 4,399-m Qazi Nag mountain above Kamalkote, the village on the Line of Control with the highest number of deaths and the largest scale of devastation, lies the body of 20-year-old Safeena.

Her elderly father, Nazir Hussain Abbasi, stares, so traumatized that he hasnt even begun to cry. She was grazing goats when the earth shook and the rocks rained on her. One boulder crushed her; the others tumbled fast, as if to ensure her burial.

Young Safeena: Corpse number 300 in the village

Today, all that is visible is her long hair, an arm, and a foot. Up in the mountains, just below the peak, her corpse now stands witness to the death in her village: Not a single house stands upright. Safeena has taken the official death count to 300 in this village alone.

After a three-hour climb up four successive hills along a craggy, landslide-prone road, The Indian Express team is the first to reach this village. The survivors, shocked and hungry, are mourning alone, having spent the last two cold nights under an open sky. The only people for company is the personnel of the Border Security Force who have come down from Sopore with blankets and rations.

In fact, rattling off the numbers of ones dead has become a bizarre kind of greeting in the village. Whenever, two villagers come across each other, they show their fingers, indicating the number of dead from their respective families. The dead lie in the courtyards as nobody can muster even four people, who will carry each body to the graveyard.

Not a single family which hasnt been touched by death

Safeenas father is frail but he has been searching for his daughter ever since the quake struck and she went missing. Seeing a rescue team going up the hill, he marches in front, showing the way up. But when he finds her, he does not break down.

Theres no change in his face. He hastily follows the team down when they say they cant extricate the body.
The father isnt the only one. Several others in the village just sit there, their faces blank, their eyes drained of all expression. Local teacher Muhammad Tariq Hussain Minhas has the reason: There is not a single house which has not collapsed, not a single family which hasnt been touched by death. Nine of his family have been killed, including two sisters.

Manhas was cutting corn outside his house when the quake struck. The mountains first shuddered, then spouted dust which soon enveloped our village, everything became invisible. And it was only when that dust settled that the living saw the dead. They saw that 24 had been killed when they had assembled in the house of the ailing Imam of the local grand mosque, Muzamil Hussain Jagwal to ask about his health.

Endless hide and seek play

A dozen of them were from the Imams family, including the Imam himself.

His son is alive. I was at my fathers bedside when the floor shook and the walls pressed in, says Abdul Kabir. Kabirs daughter is still buried inside. She was playing hide and seek with me at the time (of the earthquake). She used to hide and then, in minutes, would show her face at the door, the father recalls, bending down to look underneath the stones. I am praying I can get her body now.

The North Face collected about 5 tons of gear whilst GlobalGiving connected them to credible organizations on the ground in Kashmir who will help distribute the goods. Monetary donations are still much needed - and they will be matched 100%!

"Thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations to Kashmir relief and rebuilding projects will be matched 100% until January 6, 2005 or until the $10,000 fund runs out," reported TNF. "To encourage many people to give, we are capping the match amount to $500."

TNF has also set up a four member team of sponsored athletes led by Willie Benegas, that includes Renan Ozturk, Cedar Wright and Patrick Kenny, to travel to the Kashmir region in order to survey damage, assess avalanche danger to relief camps, and deliver gear to the hardest hit villages. Benegas, a member of The North Face athlete team for 7 years, has frequented this region since 1993 and took the lead on this expedition to give back to the region that inspires this group of mountaineers to continue to explore.

Contact Global Giving at:

#Mountaineering #Mountaineering

An image is worth a thousand words. By Muzamil Jaleel, courtesy of The North Face team (click to enlarge).

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