Without cell phones or television, people unable to locate families amid wild rumours
PESHAWAR: As mobile networks and television channels were rendered useless by the powerful earthquake that jolted Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, locals had no access to information or updates on the status of loved ones. That is when speculation began and unconfirmed reports reared their ugly heads, serving no purpose other than creating panic.
As residents feared for relatives, they were seen frantically touching screens and pushing buttons on mobile handsets in the hope of reaching them.
TV channels went off air, but only caused further anxiety when they came back online. The stations showed mass devastation across the country without confirming reports.
People eventually started receiving information from unconfirmed sources about the kind of casualties and the extent; those messages were simply forwarded it to others. With little official news coming forth initially, those at the receiving end of these messages had no choice but to believe such misinformation. There was an almost stampede-like situation at government offices as people tried to get to open spaces. Locals raised their hands in prayer and asked for forgiveness for their sins.
Some linked the earthquake with Pakistan’s location on a fault line, while others said it was the country’s “un-Islamic“ practices. “Experts say the whole of Pakistan is located on a fault line and will ultimately suffer mass devastation,” said Imtiaz Ahmad, a lawyer. However, he was interrupted by an elderly man who said the frequent of these disasters was directly connected with the sins committed by the country’s population.
As people assembled outside their houses and plazas in groups, they shared unconfirmed reports – much like in a panicked game of Chinese Whispers.
For some, the earthquake was a trigger reminding them of the devastating 2005 Kashmir Earthquake.
“I lost my wife after a heavy boulder crashed down on my house,” Ibrar Ahmad, a resident of Alpuri, Shangla, said as he recalled the incident from 10 years ago. Like others, he was repeatedly trying to contact his family.
Ibrar, who was inside the Peshawar High Court building, initially fainted and was helped out of the premises by lawyers. The whole building moved back and forth like a swing, forcing lawyers, judges and court staff to vacate the building. Some litigants fainted in shock and fear. Drivers abandoned their vehicles and tried to reach open spaces after feeling the jolts.
Sirens of Rescue 1122 vehicles increased fears as people started creating their own version of events.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2015.