Earthquake in Pakistan (1987)

In March 1987, I found myself in Bumburet, the largest valley of the Kalasha Desh in the Chitral District, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

One night, I retreated to bed after dinner to read by the light of the Hurricane lamp and listened to Bach on my Walkman. My reverie was interrupted by a massive shock that slammed the charpoi into my back. Around me, the air was filled with a rushing, roaring sound that seemed to be coming from underneath and all around me at the same time. The room shuddered violently and it took a second or two for me to realise that an earthquake had just hit.

A second, more violent blow picked up the building and slammed it into the ground like a child’s toy. I panicked and rushed to get outside, but found the door was jammed in its frame. The shaking continued and the door finally opened. I dived outside and skinned my shins trying to vault over the veranda rail. With a thud that knocked the breath out of me, I landed on my stomach on the lawn in front of the hotel. The ground rippled under my body for a moment and then was still.

As I lay panting and wishing that I had not tried to jump over a fence in the dark, the roar of the quake echoed across the valley. The frequency of the sound was so low that I felt it more than heard it. Like me, the building was shaken, but more-or-less intact. I spent the rest of the night in my room, but with the door wedged firmly open.

In the morning, I wandered around the village to see how well others had fared. The health centre and schoolhouse, which had been built using breeze blocks, were badly damaged. As far as I could see, structures built using local materials were unscathed.

In the evening, a local told me that the epicentre of the quake was somewhere in the Chitral valley and had measured 5.5 to 6.0 on the Richter scale.

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