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Earthquake in South Asia

A Step Away From His Family's Fate

It was Malik Rizwan's turn to check on the classes at his Pakistani school, and that may be why he's alive. Dozens of others are feared dead.

October 12, 2005|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — A mundane request from his wife meant the difference between life and death for Malik Rizwan.

But he now faces life without his wife or his child.

Just seconds before Saturday's massive earthquake struck, the couple were chatting in the office of their family-owned private school.

Classes were about to begin when Rizwan's wife, Fouzia, who is also the vice principal, asked whether he would mind doing the morning rounds to make sure the teachers had all shown up on time. It was his turn.

He had just stepped onto the steel terrace between two three-story buildings when what felt like an invisible fist hammered him to the ground. The terrace jumped at least a foot before one end broke free from the wall and dropped several yards.

"Within four seconds, there were seven strong jerks, and the whole building collapsed," Rizwan said Tuesday as Russian and Pakistani rescue workers searched for survivors in the rubble of the collapsed building. More than 20 students are believed buried there.

The magnitude 7.6 temblor, whose epicenter was near this city in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, shook the earth so violently that Rizwan was thrown several yards.

He landed on a microphone platform where select pupils at Pre-Cadet Rizwan Public School addressed the student body, fostering their confidence and leadership abilities.

A falling beam hit his 31-year-old wife on the back of the head, killing her instantly, Rizwan said. The couple's son, Zarar, 5, was crushed to death in the rubble of his ground-floor classroom.

"He was here," Rizwan said softly, kicking at chunks of concrete and steel reinforcing bars with the toe of his shoe. Nearby, a green notebook with the words "Parents' Permissions for Computers and Karate" lay next to scattered test papers, children's shoes and knapsacks full of books.

Rizwan's son was one of 520 students, ages 3 to 16, at the two-building school. The older building remained standing, and all 300 students inside survived. About 170 youths, including Zarar, were in the building that collapsed, Rizwan said.

Rizwan said his wife shouted for students to run, and many escaped with their teachers. He estimated that 40 people died.

Within minutes of the quake, many students were trying to save the lives of others by running for water and bandages and digging in the debris.

"I'm sad, but I'm also happy," Rizwan said. "I trained them, and they helped me a lot. They showed courage."

They also made Rizwan proud, of them and their school, which he said had been one of the city's best since it was founded in 1977. It had a computer lab, a game room and television sets, rare amenities for children in a region held back by the decades-old dispute between Pakistan and neighboring India over control of Kashmir.

The last student found alive in the rubble was pulled out Sunday. A British search-and-rescue crew used specialized equipment to check for signs of more survivors and, finding none, moved on.

"But God knows better," said Rizwan, a devout Muslim. "Machines can be deceived."

The quake was not God's punishment, said Rizwan, who believes that humans' problems are born of their own mistakes.

"With the present situation in the world, all nations have to deal with each other with love -- and respect," he said.

After Rizwan patiently answered questions, he had one of his own.

"You are Christian or Jew?" he inquired, shouting to be heard over the Russian rescue crew's jackhammer. "We like Christians," he said, and his smile turned to a scowl, "more than Jews."

Even now, amid the ruins of a once beautiful city, after the loss of his wife, their son and many of Rizwan's students and staff, he was on the lookout for perceived foreign intelligence agents. He is convinced that outsiders are determined to exploit the disaster and prevent the reunification of Kashmir, a long-sought goal of many in this region.

"Divide and rule," he said and, with a suspicious glance, returned to the search for bodies.



How to help

These are some of the aid agencies accepting contributions for assistance to those affected by the earthquake in South Asia.

Food for the Hungry Inc.

South Asia Earthquake

1224 E. Washington St.

Phoenix, AZ 85034

(877) 780-4261, ext. 2506

Habitat for Humanity International

South Asia Earthquake

121 Habitat St.

Americus, GA 31709

(800) 422-4828

International Aid

17011 W. Hickory

Spring Lake, MI 49456

(800) 251-2502

International Medical Corps

Pakistan Earthquake Relief Fund

1919 Santa Monica Blvd., Ste. 300

Santa Monica, CA 90404-1950

(800) 481-4462

Islamic Relief USA

P.O. Box 6098

Burbank, CA 91510

(888) 479-4968

International Rescue Committee

122 E. 42nd St.

New York, NY 10168

(877) REFUGEE (733-8433)

MAP International

P.O. Box 215000

Brunswick, GA 31525

(800) 225-8550

Mercy Corps

Pakistan Earthquake Fund

Dept. NR

P.O. Box 2669

Portland, OR 97208-2669

(800) 852-2100

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