Thirteen people — among them seven children — were crushed to death in their sleep when a rare landslide buried their thatch huts in the Gulistan-e-Jauhar neighbourhood of the metropolitan city in the early hours of Tuesday.
Rescuers retrieved the bodies from underneath tons of soil and rock after a six-hour laborious struggle. The victims — seven children, three women and as many men — were from three families and hailed from the impoverished south Punjab districts of Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan.
Survivors and witnesses said the landslide struck three shacks built on two plots of land carved out of a hill. The tragedy struck around 2am and all the residents were asleep. “It happened in the twinkling of an eye,” Hammad, one of the survivors, told The Express Tribune. “A huge mass of rocks and soil fell on the shanties with a rumbling sound – and we couldn’t do anything.”
Initially, rescuers dug through the rubble with shovels and hoes in the hunt for survivors as it took the authorities around two hours to drive heavy mechanical tools to the site. Wailing and crying relatives gathered at the scene, watching as the bodies were pulled from the rubble and wrapped in shrouds. One victim was a girl believed to be as young as six months, a rescuer said.
Fellow shanty dwellers, volunteers from the neighbourhood and paramilitary Rangers took part in the rescue operation. “Some lives could have been saved, had proper rescue efforts started on time,” said a resident who also participated in the rescue operation.
Residents blamed ‘china-cutting’ for the deadly landslide. “Initially, there were four plots of land that had been allotted in 1995 and each one measured 400 square yards. However, more plots were later carved out of the hill,” said a resident, Ammar Khan. “The plots were crudely carved out of the hill weakening its base and making it vulnerable to landslide,” he added.
One of the plots is owned by Rizwan Soomro, brother of PPP leader Ayaz Soomro, while the other belongs to one Farzana Qadir.
Survivors blamed the land mafia for the tragedy. “We had set up shacks here 10 or 12 years ago with the consent of the owner who wanted to ensure possession of the plot of land,” said Sheraz, one of the dwellers who survived the tragedy. “However, for the past few months we have been receiving threats to vacate the plot. And we believe today’s landslide was not an accident rather it was humanly triggered.”
The provincial police chief said he has ordered an inquiry into claims that ‘china-cutting’ was to blame for the tragedy. “The inquiry will establish whether it was an accident or criminal act,” said IGP Ghulam Hyder Jamali. The Karachi Commissioner imposed a ban on constructions in the hilly areas of the city, and formed a four-member joint inquiry committee of police and district administration to probe into the tragedy.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2015.