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Najma Akhtar

I received this email and thought Najma's accounts very moving.... She is looking for help to make a video/film, if you think that you can help or would just like to talk to her, she can be contacted at

The first account is soon after the Earthquake struck... you can feel the panic and fear in her writing...

Salaams all...This is najma here...very much in Islamabad.......I witnessed the tower coming down since we were on the 9th floor opposite the collapsed tower not more than 50 yards from it and experienced the full magnitudes of the earthquake ...................oohhhhh terrifying is an understatement.........
But by the grace of god we are some of the lucky ones that have survived.
At Approximately 8.50 am on Sat 8th October 2005, I was ready to leave for the office and my little cousin was ironing her shalwar Qameez and getting ready to come with me…..
My mother was brushing her teeth ………when all of a sudden we felt a little vibration but enough to realise that this was an earthquake.
My marmee had also unfortunately experienced the strong quake in The USA in 1989 with my sister so she new that this was gonna be trouble …..
Marmee comes running out saying ‘bete, this is an earthquake’ ….to which I said ‘I know’ trying not to sound too worried.
I thought it would pass in a few seconds, but the intensity just grew……..and the noise ooooh ‘what was it’, whatever it was, it was scary like hell.
I ran to the front door which I tried to unlock but it took time because by now we were all literally being thrown side to side………
I got both my mother and cousin to stand under the beam of the front door and of course we could not stand straight. The quake seemed to go on forever……30 secs, 45 secs, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and 4 minutes. I think it went on for at least 5 maybe 6 minutes…….
Meanwhile the noise just became deafening. I though this was it ‘the end’.
I came out of our front door……and took a quick look left of the outside balcony which is exposed to the air ……….all I know that what I saw put me in shock.
I saw this 10 storey high rise called Margala Tower going down like a stack of cards. It was on its way down and I could see the big huge flat white slab of the roof that you all must have see on the TV/news, moving down………the noise together with the dust and smoke was something that I will never forget, it was almost a reliving of 9/11.
I started screaming and crying not for me or us but the first thought were of all the children and people in that building.
It was for the kids I used see everyday from my balcony when I have my morning tea. They would come out at a particular time with their school bags to go to school in this Black car and the Guy who works for the UN. who also had pick-ups and drop offs by the UN car……..
From our 9th floor flat we get a wonderful serene view of the mountains and Faisal Mosque. I had also given an interview for a Pakistani newspaper the night before from our balcony at apprx 11.15pm and we had our sehri on the balcony at 4am just that very morning. Then in a couple of hours it was gone.
After seeing this, within split seconds I got my mother and cousin to move from our front door……marmee didn’t want to move, but my fear was ‘what if our building comes down too and because we were are situated at the end of our block one often sees in movies how the ends and balconies tend to fall… ……. By this time one just could not even stand straight. It was like being in one off those crooked houses in the fun fair. We were being violently jolted to and fro.
We managed to get to the end of the corridor, by that time I was in tears and screaming to the other residents to leave ………they had nt seen the building collapse…..
….we got to the stairs and started walking down…….more and more people joined us as we walked down.
I was impressed with the orderly way in which the people were moving, there was no mass hysteria, panic, pushing shouting or screaming.
It was I think only when people came out of the front entrance that they grasped the enormity of the situation.
We had, like everyone else run out, without, dupattas, we were bare footed and there was glass everywhere, we left our mob phones, everything and most of the flats were unlocked.
Everyone was stunned. One just couldn’t take their eyes of what were seeing.
It was an unbelievable sight and of course at that time all we could see was our situation and had no knowledge of the magnitude of the catastrophe. What had happened was only the little pea in the pod. Or just the tip of the ice berg
We moved down towards the left of the building. Some women and children were crying, there were old people too. There was dust everywhere. Most of the people did nt know what to do. But I remember looking up at the end tower of Margala and there were people trapped on the top floors. Some brave men from the ground were already starting to climb the rubble to try to rescue them. I went to one of the security guards to tell them to tell the management to close off all gas, electric and water supplies to our building which they said they had already done.
The last thing I remember seeing was that someone from the top floor of Margala throwing down some sheets that had been knotted together plus some ladders were being put up which were of course not long enough.
We somehow managed to leave after that and went to our uncle’s place. They were equally distraught.
I returned to the site after about 1 hrs to see if I could get out flat locked for fear of looting, which we all know happened all over the world.
By then the roads were blocked and there was utter and complete chaos. There were hundreds and hundreds of onlookers there.
All exits and entrances to our building had been blocked which was a relief that everyone’s personal possessions were safe.
Anyway with extreme difficulty they let us into the building. My legs and hands were trembling as we ran up 9 floors in case another quake should come.
With super speed we grabbed just a few personal things like passports, mobile telephone some clothes, money, shoes and flat keys. It was so eerie there wasn’t a soul in the building. I didn’t even want to look out of the window and within a few minutes we were running down the stairs.

This second account is when the earthquake is over....

THE PROJECT……THE AFTERMATH (Islamabad earth quake rescue)
Hi there.
My name is Najma Akhtar, I am a singer/song writer born and brought up in UK of Asian origin and I live in London. I happened to be in Islamabad on the day of earth quake and witnessed the collapse of a ten story apartment block.
From my above account I had decided to put together a video/film of my feelings and my experiences. What has prompted me to do this is that I have been deeply moved by the passion, love and charity given by the Pakistani people in order to help the people of northern areas.
Even though aid is arriving from outside Pakistan, the amount of aid given by the Pakistani people is astronomical. On the road where my uncle lives, literally, every other house has become a place where donations are being given and Lorries are seen coming and going taking relief goods to northern areas. On every street corner you will find some kind of charity tent setup, on every single TV channel there are constant pleas for donations and assistance, whether rich or poor people are donating whole heartedly.
I now must come on to the point of volunteers. I have no words to describe how I feel when I see the numbers of volunteers coming forward to offer assistance, most of these volunteers are very young people. People have stopped working, stopped going to offices, stopped their studies, stopped their daily life routine and everyone is trying their best to help the bereaved, injured and traumatized. Even after school has finished you can see young school children in various camps offering their help. The Pakistani people have never been so united. And this tragedy has affected millions of people around the world in one way or another.
I recently met a group of young people that came from Karachi and they were making their own way to northern Kashmir with bag packs full of medicines. They were going to be trekking over the mountains where aid hadn’t reached yet.
I was so over whelmed by amount of human compassion from within Pakistan that I thought this just has to be captured on film and shown to the west.
Even though Pakistan is rated as third world country, the government and people are very capable to make use of their limited resources. I have interviewed normal members of the Pakistani public and obtained their opinions about certain things such as how they feel about the British, French, American, Chinese and Indian rescue teams.
Out of such tragedy comes a lot of positivity for the west and India in terms of Pakistani public opinion. This is a very positive view point, because most people in the west think that Pakistan is the place where you find fundamentalism and a breeding ground for terrorist in Madrasa’s. After the earth quake hit I was in shock for few days and still I am, but by watching all these relief activities around me has motivated me to make a video about normal people who are passionately involved without any kind of hidden agenda.
I return to the site where I experienced the most terror and that was collapsed Margalla Tower site. I realized that this is just very small part of the bigger picture, but this was the area where I felt personally involved because I was unfortunate to witness the tower collapsing. Returning to the site I was pleasantly surprised by the organization of the various relief camps. There was the PIMS hospital camp (Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences), Telenor Information’s database setup, PTCL has setup an emergence phone-in help line plus others and many many young volunteers that were working day and night.
I have concentrated the main interviews in this area in the night and the day time. People interviewed vary from
• Normal public
• Volunteers
• Doctors
• Nurses
• Fire brigade
• FWO(Frontier works organization)
• CDA(Capital Development Authority)
• High ranking army officials

I also visited PIMS but due to security was unable to visit children ward, however I obtained interviews from:
• Volunteers
• Nurses
• Patients(that have come from northern parts)
• Witnessed two emergency helicopters landing in hospital grounds with patients.
All of this has been filmed in one and half days ……
I see this film/project as either a video dairy style documentary or as a Michael Paylin type thing.
Initially I thought it would need lot of editing, but after looking at the rushes I feel that the integrity of this film should be kept as natural as possible. For example there are people interrupting interviews, there is a scene where I have been moved to tears. I think this kind of naturalism needs to be kept.
I know this disaster is being covered by journalists in every area 24/7, going to remote areas, obtaining graphic footage and general reporting of the disaster and the injured. But my stance on this is that I have come from the west as a British born Asian Muslim and a normal member of public.
I have been so touched by what has been going on around me that I have been compelled to capture my account and experiences/ to be documented and shown to ordinary people of Great Britain
I would like this to be edited and broadcasted if possible as soon as possible.
Najma Akhtar