Remembering the Earthquake

Nayha Farid Khan
Nayha Farid Khan

Time doesn’t stand for anyone. Life moves on, but there are certain events that stay with you forever. They change who you are and how you view life. The earthquake of ’05 was that one event for me. Please see below for one of the articles I had written about that tragic day.

Remembering the Earthquake
Omar Ul Haq

“On Saturday, October 8, 2005, two buildings of the Margalla Towers –luxury apartments in Islamabad – collapsed after a 7.6 Richter scale earthquake struck at 8:53 am and lasted approx 6 minutes. More than 250 people, including foreign nationals, were buried alive under the debris of the towers and over 74,000 died in Pakistan resulting from the earthquake.”

Unfortunately, two of the innocent souls lost that day were those who were very special to us. Farid Zia Khan, my father’s best friend since nursery, was married to Hina Farid, my mother’s cousin. Their older children, Nida and Danish, are both around my age and Nayha, their youngest daughter was 8 years old. She was an angel that could melt anyone’s heart. Our families have been inseperable for as long as I can remember and our usual lunches, dinners, drives, vacations, and hanging out sessions have continued for as back as my memory takes me.

I still remember coming home on Friday, October 9th, 2005 after a long week at work, lying down on my couch, and flipping through different channels while trying to find something to watch on TV. Although I usually go out on Fridays, I had decided to stay in that night to catch up on some sleep. I began to make myself a sandwich when I received a text message from my mother saying “big earthquake in Pakistan, something wrong with Margalla Towers, Hina is not answering the telephone so I’m driving to their house. I hope Allah brings good news”. I read the text message, thought it must have been a slight tremor, and continued to make myself some dinner while watching an old episode of Friends.

An hour later, my mobile began to vibrate as I continued to receive more text messages. I leaned over and saw another message from my mother, which said “Hina and Nayha are missing, praying to Allah that everything is fine”. I didn’t really comprehend what she meant by the fact that they were “missing” and I continued to assume that there must be dozens of people standing outside the Towers and she was probably trying to find them through those crowds of people. I remembered sitting in their flat in Margalla towers a few months ago while it was pouring rain and we were ridiculing those who had built this building as we felt the tower sway from side to side. I began to wash the dishes when finally, my father called sounding extremely upset to let me know that Farid Uncle was in Lahore, Nida and Danish were in Dubai, and that Hina Aunty and Nayha were both inside the Margalla Towers when it collapsed.

Although my father had been extremely straight forward with me, I kept telling him to speed it up and find them as I was convinced they were probably standing outside the Towers, hidden amongst the crowds of people. I refused to even consider the possibility that they were in the building when it collapsed.  I decided to call Nida and Danish as I continued to get more worried because my father couldn’t provide much information regarding the situation at the time. I spoke to Nida, who was confused, scared, 7 months pregnant, and had not spoken to anyone from Pakistan as yet. She passed the phone to Danish who, also in denial at the time, chose to avoid discussing the current crisis and was instead asking me how I was dealing with the snow in Washington, DC. A few minutes later, I called back to find out if they had an update on the situation and like the rest of us, they were watching the news and could not believe that the building that CNN International was showing on repeat, the building that they called home. We briefly discussed the next available flights to Pakistan and they immediately left for the airport. Having only experienced a few tremors during my time in Islamabad, I could not even begin to imagine the extent of the tragedy taking place back home.

I didn’t know how to react, let alone comprehend what had happened. We were glued to CNN, which kept showing the collapsed Margalla Towers. I couldn’t believe that this was the same building we had spent so much time in during the last few years. Our hearts sank to see the building, the relief effort which was ridden with inefficiency, poor organization, and without any apparent leadership. It was depressing to say the least, to see Pakistan, a developing nation, trying to orchestrate a rescue effort without any proper machinery or equipment. However, we were incredibly grateful for those who had flown in from all over the world to help out in every possible way. CNN reported that they had heard voices of others trapped under the cement, but it wasn’t possible for a medical team to get to them until the debris was completely removed. At this time, Pakistan was truly in a “state of emergency” and we began to witness the entire country come together, holding hands, to fight the crisis together.

My parents called for the next two days telling us that there was still a glimmer of hope and that Hina Aunty and Nayha may have survived. We continued to pray for them. As much as I wanted to prepare myself for the worst, it just wasn’t possible at the time. I could not help but think about Farid Uncle, Nida, and Danish and what they must be going through. Nida, who was seven months pregnant at the time, needed her mother and younger sister at this crucial stage of her life and I wasn’t able to understand why God would make her go through this. Hina Aunty was a gem of a person, so full of love and energy, and anyone who had ever met her would tell you that she was the glue that kept everyone together. In the words of her brother, Nameer Ameen, she was “a woman full of life, always laughing, and making others laugh. A spiritually devoted individual who not only lived what she preached but also inspired everyone around her”. Nayha, who was truly special as well, shared a striking resemblance to her mother, and was looking forward to becoming an aunt to Nida’s baby, which was due in the next two months. And as Nameer has also said, she “had the power to steal your heart in a heart beat and had the ability to capture your love and attention no matter what. A darling of her father’s heart, she was the only one who could melt Farid Zia’s heart like no other has ever done before”.

As I was sitting with a friend in my apartment two days later glued to the television, I received my mother’s devastating text message. “Nayha passed away. I don’t know if Nida knows yet so please don’t say anything to her. Farid identified her body and I recognized her new glass slippers which she had shown me when I had gone there for lunch yesterday. No news of Hina yet, please pray for her.” My heart sank as I sat there with my mobile in my hand, tears rolling down my face, I shut my eyes, and just saw Nayha’s face. The angel had passed away and gone to heaven in such a tragic way that it was just unbelievable. Nunee Naahoo, as we all called her, had kept her first fast (roza) that day and had forced her father to make it back to Islamabad in time for Iftar to eat with her. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and I refused to accept the fact that God had taken away this precious girl from her family.

It was not long before my mother sent a final text message saying “Hina passed away and I am leaving for the mortuary”. My mother’s sister, her cousin, her best friend, had passed away and I cannot even imagine what she must have gone through while identifying her body. Sitting in Washington DC and having to go through this with my brother Osman, my friends, and colleagues was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with in my life. I still had two months before I was able to leave the country and wasn’t sure if I would ever have the strength to face Farid Uncle, Nida, and Danish and what I would say to them.

As I arrived in Pakistan, one of the first things I did was go to their house to visit them. Driving to an entirely different side of Islamabad, a different sector, and a completely different house to visit them was strange to say the least. I was shaking, sweating, and extremely nervous as I walked in to meet Farid Uncle, Danish, and Nida, who was expected her baby any day. I didn’t have to say or do anything. I hugged them, sat with them, and relived all our memories for the next several hours. I needed to spend time with them and I can safely say that this was truly a moment of awakening for me: life could end in the blink of an eye and we should not take anything for granted. We stayed there for hours and before we knew it, it was 3:30 am. We remembered the time we were sitting in their living room in Margalla Towers a few months earlier just hanging out and Hina Aunty had come to the living room, huffing and puffing, and was trying to push us out of the door way while screaming “shahbash, ghar jao aur subah keh waqt aana”. We had pushed her back, burst out laughing, and continued to chat away with Nida and Danish while she brought some tea and breakfast for us.

Hina Farid Khan

Hina Farid Khan

As human beings, we can’t rewrite fate or what God has in store for all of us, however, we can at least try to understand and learn from our experiences and maybe then, we could be better-prepared and better-equipped to deal with such disasters in the future. As we all know, the destruction of Margalla Towers was no accidental tragedy. As time and investigations have proven, poor construction techniques, substandard materials, bribery, and corruption of the involved parties are the factors responsible for taking the very lives of so many and destroying so many families forever. I don’t think it will ever be possible to forget those who passed away in the Earthquake. As a tribute to them, Nameer Ameen, Hina Farid Khan’s brother, has started an NGO in their name.

Hina and Nayha Disaster Services, Pakistan (HANDS, Pakistan) is a tribute to the both of them,. They have inspired all of us to make a difference in the lives of those who need and deserve better preparedness when faced with calamities like earthquakes. HANDS aims to change the way Pakistanis are prepared to manage such disasters by proactively educating the public on the risk factors of earthquakes and other natural disasters and increasing public awareness in safety, hazard mitigation, as well as redefining construction standards in earthquake zones. In time, HANDS will hopefully provide world class search and rescue operations in the most efficient manner possible, dramatically reducing the loss of life during a calamity such as an earthquake or a flood.

We should never forget the disaster that changed our lives years ago and always remember the ones we lost with a smile. I am still amazed at how so many races, cultures, and religions came together to help our country in our time of need. May Allah grant everyone who passed away with Paradise and forgive all their sins.

Rest in peace and we shall meet soon.

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20 comments

  1. I didn’t personally know them but this breaks my heart. We should remember all of the victims today and say a little prayer for them. 😦

  2. Truly tragic. I remember I had woken up early for a Saturday and saw the MARGALLA sign on the ground and there was no other news about the rest of Islamabad. I rang Pakistan for 2 hours and couldnt get through. I was petrified that if such a big building fell down, what would have happened to the rest of the houses? I was frantic and didn’t wake my wife up for the longest time. She finally awoke once I’d spoken to the family and knew all were ok. Terrible terrible loss for Hina Aunty’s two surviving kids and her husband.

  3. I feel saddened every time I think of this particular tragedy and the earthquake on the whole. Its true that certain events stay with us forever but at the end of the day they only make us stronger.

  4. We should be so grateful for every single day we have with our loved ones. This is such a tragedy..praying for all those who lost their family and friends that horrible day.

  5. Ali Qaiser · · Reply

    Nayha is such a doll and Mrs. Khan looks very elegant too. Thanks for sharing this with us. My wife and I will remember them in our prayers tonight. May Allah taala have a place for them in heaven. Ameeen.

  6. Sarah H · · Reply

    Nayha used to come to our school to pick up her older brother and all of us students used to fight over her. She had a precious smile and she is adorable in this photo.

  7. In reference to Shaza Khala (your mother), I’ve not seen a braver woman in my life in that circumstance and that scene, while identifying Amma.

  8. I think it is also worth mentioning the trip to Balakot, that trip with you really was a reflective experience. And some faces I will never forget.

  9. Hasan Rizvi · · Reply

    A day that will never be forgotten but one should also remember that it was on this day Pakistan was united as one and stood together to battle this great tragedy. All the victims continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.

  10. Ali Waqar Shah · · Reply

    Very moving…

    I guess none of us can forget that day. Everyone from our small little town lost someone in those towers. Those who lived through Oct 8 and the following day cant possibly forget what they saw and felt during this tragedy. My friend Imran Munis lost both his parents in the tower. Islamabad had an atmosphere of so much gloom that it reeked in your skin and I don’t think anyone slept for days after. Its strange but seeing the collapsed building, and all those houses in Balakot and the thought of all those trapped lives inside has made me claustrophobic, a fear that i never had before.

    I remember standing at margalla towers, distributing water bottles to the workers, removing the rubble, and it had become so un-usually cold that night and it even rained. As if those trapped inside had less worries already. I guess we all did our bit, as little as we could.

    They were showing the school at Balakot that lost 35 children when its roof collapsed, 35?? well alteast those were the bodies that they found. The school ground with its concrete side steps still haunts me, where i witnessed bodies of kids wrapped in white and God help that father sitting crying over the rubble of his house begging for people to help him get his children out. Human misery and helplessness could not go beyond what that father must have felt.

    Prayers for all those who perished and for those who survived!! May you and rest of us never see a day like that ever again.

  11. Qasir J · · Reply

    Ameen ……an event that really moved all of us ….also generated an amazing level of unity and social discipline amongst alot …who personally went out there to help rather than rely on government agencies

  12. I’m sorry for your friend, Imran Munis, and hope that he has found the strength to move on and remember his parents with a smile. I actually had the opportunity to go to Balakot with my friend and personally gave out sweaters, shoes, and snacks to the families who made it through the earthquake. It was tragic, to say the least.

    Qasir, you’re right. Islamabad came together as a city that day and the entire nation was mourning.

  13. Asim Rafat · · Reply

    I just saw your Blog on your twitter profile and came across this sad post. Thank you for sharing

  14. Sara Kamal · · Reply

    This is so sad 😦 Does their family still live in Islamabad or moved away?

  15. Shaza Haq · · Reply

    It was and will always be the saddest day of my life. It is even painful to recall it. I lost my cousin who was my soul mate. I could always share anything with her and would tell her everything. There has been nobody like her after she left us. She was Allahs amaanat and he took her from us. I don’t have any words to show this pain. May Allah keep meray bachoh Nida aur Danish koh hamesha hifazat main aur khush rakhay. Ameen.

  16. Sad … so sad!

  17. Tayyaba · · Reply

    This made me so sad. 5 years gone now 😦 God bless the innocent departed soulds. Ameen.

  18. Powerful and moving, Omar. Thank you for sharing this…

  19. Mrs Hina was my class teacher in KG and her son Danish was my brother’s class fellow…When I got to know Mrs Hina and her daughter passed away it was hard to believe. My friend from school lost both her parents in this 2005 earthquake. We all need to remember the people who leave us in good words and pray for them.

  20. i am having a hard time not crying while reading this at work. this has been one the worst catastrophies our country has faced. my heart cries for all those who have lost someone through that devastating day. May Allah give us all the courage and peace within us to cope with the aftermath of what happened that day..

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