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Rescuers evacuate a victim from the site of the bomb blast in Karachi on March 3, 2013. — Photo by AFP

KARACHI: A day after a devastating blast ripped through the populated street in Abbas Town, volunteers and teenage kids from the neighbourhood were seen helping families pick up whatever was left of their belongings on Monday as police and Rangers were still conspicuous by their absence.

Without a morsel of food and lack of sleep, as they were busy rushing relatives, friends or neighbours to hospitals, many families came back early morning to find most of their valuables missing.

Huddled in groups, each family was busy packing and rechecking their stuff, as most of them lost their stuff at night.

Standing with one of her relatives, Nazish Fatima, 48, was busy counting whatever luggage could be retrieved from the debris. She had gone to attend a religious congregation nearby before Maghrib prayers, and had left her younger son, Mohammad Wajih Abidi, 22, at home. “He was teaching a kid from our apartment when the blast occurred,” she narrated.

Before he could react, the entire back portion of the house fell down, along with the water tank and walls of the main living area, barring the drawing room where Wajih and the child were sitting. Wajih picked up the child and ran down barefoot from the second floor to the main entrance getting minor injuries from glass shards scattered on the floor.

The interior of the four-storey apartment building was partially destroyed, leaving a small space for stairs, and entirely destroyed from the back side, with iron rods hanging from the balconies. The apartments, packed with a large number of people, smelled of leaking gas and explosives.

Blood splattered walls, broken windows and cupboards were scattered in an apartment on the first floor.

“This is my sister’s home,” said Uzair Khan, 24, while speaking to Dawn. He said all his family members were in the Liaquat National Hospital.

“She got injuries on her head and my one-year-old nephew got a deep gash from glass on his back,” he said. Both of them had to be rushed to the Liaquat National Hospital after the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital ran out of space, he added.

“They will stay at the hospital for a few days then come back to our home. What is left of this place anyway?” he said looking towards the cracked and fallen walls amidst broken furniture. The only thing Uzair is keeping protected more than anything is a baby parrot, which was born just three days ago. “I’m surprised that it survived. I thought of letting it go, but this is the only thing that’ll make my nephew happy. As we bought it for him…,” he added.

On the floor above, Irfanul Haq was on the phone, asking a friend to “urgently make arrangements for a cheaper new home.” Living on rent for four years, Irfan shared the apartment with three of his brothers. “In a few months time, I was about to get the ownership of this home. But well, it wasn’t meant to be…,” he added sadly, managing a smile.

Though he shifted his wife and kids to a relative’s place the night before, he is hoping to get a new home, the quicker the better. “For how long can relatives help? They have their own things to do. Getting a new home is going to be my only worry, as thankfully no one in my family was hurt.”

But for the time being, Irfan is making sure that whatever is in better condition remains safe, before it is shifted. “We are using the broken door as a way to shield our things from robbers,” he said, while showing a broken door stuck where there used to be window.

Zakia Begum, 50, a resident of Rabia Flower apartment for around 10 years, looked harried as she narrated her experience. “I thank God every minute that the kids were not in the room where the wall fell down. They were busy watching the cricket match in another room,” she said, standing amid a pile of debris that used to be her room.

With her husband out of town for two months and three kids to take care of, Zakia had saved around Rs50,000 by contributing to a neighbourhood ‘committee’. “That money cannot be found anywhere now,” she said.

Similarly when Fatima’s husband went back to check the damage, he came to know that most of the gold jewellery and money was missing. “I was shocked beyond words. Even at such a trying time, someone was thinking of stealing,” Fatima added grimly.

Some residents were hurriedly packing away and leaving most of the stuff behind, as there were unconfirmed reports that the buildings might fall any minute. Though Irfan denied hearing any such thing, most families had already left the building ‘locking’ their homes as they left.

On the main street, a large number of people had gathered around to see what remained of the buildings. Men and young volunteers from the area were busy clearing the debris, looking for bodies that they said might have been forgotten in the rush of last night.

Asma Shah, 38, a resident and volunteer helping the families since last night, was angry at the “lack of empathy” on the part of government officials. “Even if there was a ceremony in another part of the city, wasn’t it dignified to call it off, and pay attention where needed?” she shouted angrily.

The main commercial area leading towards Abbas Town, known for its Pakwans and other food items, presented a haunted look as most shops were destroyed, with glass and windowpanes lying on the main road. Neighbours who shared camaraderie with the shopkeepers stared silently at the empty shops, too shocked to say anything.

Haider Jaffri, 60, a resident living at the far end of Abbas Town, said he passed the area 10 minutes ago while going towards Ancholi. It was packed, as it usually was on Sundays, he said. “Suddenly, I heard a blast and drove back to help only to find kids as young as three and four crying for help, amid decapitated bodies lying around them… It’ll take a long time for me to forget that,” he added, blinking away tears.

To read in Urdu click here.