Laden (Chrar-e-Sharief): A loud bang and the earth beneath us moved like an iceberg moves in the sea,” terrified Manzoor Hajam, said while narrating the devastation caused by Laden landslide. The landslide consumed 16 persons including women and children.
Hajam, while recounting the horror of pre-dawn hours of Monday, said the continuous rains have kept them awake for two days.
“Even though weather has improved after Sunday night, we could not sleep because earlier in the evening we had seen cracks developing on a slope located above our houses,” he said, adding, “At around 3 am Monday, I came out of the house after we heard a mysterious blast. Then the land moved and it took me along with it. I was buried neck deep in the mud and lost my consciousness. When I regained my senses, I pulled myself out of the mud and started screaming to alert the villagers. By now my uncle’s house was completely buried under tons of soil”.
Hajam, sporting a cropped beard, later walked through slush and mud to reach his house, which is diametrically located upwards. His house had collapsed and so were three other houses in the neighbourhood.
“We shifted five of our family members to my Uncle Ghulam Nabi Hajam’s house. We had never imagined that the safe house would become their graveyard,” he said.
Following the incident, Hajam along with other few survivors rushed to the local Masjid to seek help and to inform the villagers about the tragic incident.
“The dead include four ladies, five men and seven children. There was one boy and one girl, my cousins, who were about to get married. There was my aunt who was expecting, another aunt who had just delivered a baby. We pulled her out of the earth. She had hugged her baby. Three of the deceased men were brothers,” Hajam said.
Later as the villagers and police rushed to the spot, they used shovels to dug the mud and salvage the bodies.
“A six year old boy is still under the mud. We have not got him out,” he added while looking towards the rubble of the destroyed houses.
He said the live stock and horses too were buried.
“We lost everything. Five houses, our all belongings, sheep, cows, horses,” Hajam said, adding, “We have nowhere to go. We are staying with the neighbours. The government officials have come here, but made no arrangements for us. The clothes I am wearing are borrowed”.
Hajam said out of Ghulam Nabi Hajam’s family, only one person Shabir Hajam survived.
“He owns a barber shop at a nearby locality. He stays there. Unable to bear the loss of five members, Shabir smashed his head with a walnut tree and had to be hospitalized,” he said.
Hajam said that Hurriyat Conference leader Agha Syed Hassan Al Moosvi and JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik came to see them and brought help as well.
“Agha sahib gave us 30000 rupees. And promised more help. Yasin sahib gave us bedding and rations,” he said.
Rescue operations continue
The only thing visible in this haunted village, surrounded by pine trees, is an earth mover and bunch of villagers who are sitting under a makeshift tin shed searching for the 6 year old boy from under the mud. They are looking at a group of rescue team which is engaged in digging mud at a place which hardly gives an impression that there was a house.
“It has been raining hard here,” In charge of State Disaster Response 10 member Team from Budgam, Maqbool Bhat said. “We have searching for him from last three days. Our bulldozer had stopped working due to mechanical failure. We are working here without equipment which are used to dig mountains of mud”.
“It is a very tough area. The villagers dug graves for the deceased near the house which now under the mud. After digging one feet, the water came out gushing from the land located at such a height. Then they took the bodies to hill top and buried them there,” he said.
“The earth is not steady. It is loose and still moving. It is not safe for the villagers to live here till rains subside. They all need to be evacuated to a safer zone urgently”.