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Abbas Town blast victims struggle to get back on their feet

July 28, 2013
Work on the construction of flats near Abbas Town is under way. — Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Work on the construction of flats near Abbas Town is under way. — Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Shahid Khan, a blast victim, shows his burn injuries. — White Star
Shahid Khan, a blast victim, shows his burn injuries. — White Star

KARACHI: Among the shops shutting down for prayers, it is not difficult to recognise the ones destroyed by the March blast a few steps from Abbas Town. While there is construction work going on in Rabia Flower and Iqra City, which is right in the middle of the road, people walk past it, oblivious to the havoc the blast wreaked on the residents.

For some it is a relief to see the ghostly structure finally being rebuilt. Imran Kazmi is one of them. Mr Kazmi, 32, who used to reside in a first-floor apartment in Rabia Flower, now lives right next to the under-construction building. His family had been living there for the past 12 years as he eked out a living in South Africa. He came back to get married just a month before the incident, as the parents and his elder brother refurbished their home for his wedding.

On March 3, a car (some say it was a truck), exploded right below Mr Kazmi’s apartment. “I was busy watching a Pakistan-South Africa cricket match with my nephews. My mother who had recently gone through a hip operation was sleeping in the next room. All of a sudden there was a huge blast. Within seconds our home was turned into rubble...” he says still not believing what had happened. Next moment it was pitch-dark. As it took him a few seconds to understand the situation, he could hear people either screaming for help or shouting each other’s names to make sure they’re safe.

Keeping an arm around the shoulders of a 10-year-old boy, Jafar, he says his nephew showed a lot of courage. “While I was looking for my mother, I asked him to help himself out, telling him that he’s strong. I found out much later that the stairs, just like everything else, had been completely destroyed. Still he made it to an ambulance and called up a relative to inform them that he is safe and in a hospital,” Mr Kazmi recalls. The child received 18 stitches on his right cheek at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.

As Mr Kazmi eyes adjusted to the darkness, with small help from a once in a while flashing light from outside, he found out that the whole floor of the room his mother was sleeping in, was hanging sideways. “She was really scared... I thanked God a thousand times that she was alright. I don’t know how I helped her out. Moreover, I don’t know how all of us survived,” he says.

Within the next few minutes, he also found his wife, unconscious, lying under the debris. Mr Kazmi says he did shout for help but people were already too busy frantically searching for their own family members to listen to him. The crucial part was to look for a way out of the rubble. “I picked up my mother on my back, and asked my wife to show the way. On my way, I saw that there were no walls, no boundaries, just a huge space full of rubble,” he explains.

Mr Kazmi got 15 stitches on his head, while his left shoulder had fractured and there was a lot of pain in his left upper thigh. A month later, a doctor operated on his thigh and took out a sharp edged glass that had gone deep inside. The family suffered in terms of losing out all the jewellery that his wife, Ms Samreen, had kept in the house.

Shrugging his shoulders, Mr Kazmi says they survived and this is all that matters now. “The only thing I’m scared to think is the fact that who would’ve helped my family had I not been here,” he said. Months after the incident and being robbed off all his money and important documents, he bought an apartment from the compensation money that the government doled out to the affected families.

On the day of the blast as Mr Kazmi and his family were on their way to hospital, Nausheen Khan was frantically making calls to look for her husband, Shahid Khan. The owner of a shop on the ground floor of Rabia Flower could not be found by any of his relatives. It emerged later that nobody could recognise him as his whole body swelled up after receiving burn injuries.

With eight children to take care of, Mr Khan had opened up a general store 13 days before the powerful blast burned it all down. The blast burned the right side of his body, melted everything in sight while he helplessly saw his nephew die right in front of him.

Sitting in his two-room apartment in Metroville, 45-year-old Khan, a man with an average built, seems annoyed with the fact that he cannot freely walk with his injuries and the nagging fear that has continued since the blast. The compensation money that he got was spent on his injuries or paying back the money he had borrowed from people. Although the family is surviving on the rent and financial support they get from their next door neighbours and family friends, Mr Khan feels his whole life is a waste now. “What’s left in me?” he asks irritably. “My family’s needs are being taken care of, but I feel like a burden on them. I can’t go out before getting a panic attack. What sort of a life is this?”

His wife, Ms Khan, says it took him three months to go out for a walk. “He was either sitting around or lying down on the bed. It took all our efforts to tell him that it is okay. It is okay to feel scared. But what matters is that it is over,” she adds.

It was the third blast in Abbas Town in recent years but so far the deadliest. Fifty-six flats and 28 shops were destroyed in the blast on March 3, says Sohail Kazmi representing a five-member Ahbab-i-Mutasareen Committee (AMC), headed by Allama Talib Johari. There was public outrage over the incident, as people demanded answers while the officials, in their effort to pacify the public, made a quick beeline for the spot and scurried away as soon as a crowd gathered around them.

Although the incident was supposed to be a blatant attack on the Shia community, Mr Kazmi said a majority of those who died belonged to both Shia and Sunni communities. “Irrespective of the supposed Shia-Sunni conflict, people here have helped each other.” He added that the government had helped them with the re-construction of the buildings by providing Rs130 million and the remaining difference of Rs25 million had been paid by volunteers.

The construction work started off in June and is looked after by a company named, Abdul Majeed and Co.

For the time being, different community-based groups are also helping the survivors out by paying their monthly rents. “As soon as they’ll be back to they’re newly constructed homes, we’ll also help them with the furniture,” says Mr Kazmi, the AMC representative.

He says the incident was to instil fear among people. “But what I see is that these people will get back on their feet,” he adds.