A series of avalanches killed more than 75 people in the Neelum Valley (Pakistani-administered Kashmir) in January, 2020. Dozens more were injured and hundreds lost their homes. The BBC is calling it the “heaviest snowfall in a century.”
“There was nothing but horrible signs of death under the snow,” recalls Shakila, a resident of Surgun village, when speaking to BBC Urdu. “My 11-month-old daughter was on one side of me, and the dead body of my sister-in-law on the other.”
Shakila spent six hours buried under snow — there was little warning the avalanche was coming.
“It was loud, like sudden thunder. I was sitting with my daughter in the open courtyard,” she said.
“Suddenly, with a gust of wind, a huge heap of snow covered everything in sight.
“Initially I couldn’t work out what had happened, or if I was alive or not. I kept screaming, calling people to get me out. For an hour or so, I could also hear my other family members doing the same.
“Everyone was screaming. Children were crying. My parents-in-law were reciting verses from the Koran. But then gradually it all went quiet,” recalled the 32-year-old.
It took rescuers up to three days to reach some of the villages hit by the avalanches in the Neelum Valley. By that time, most of the dead had already been recovered and buried, and people were waiting with their injured relatives for helicopters.
Most of those killed in the tragedy were women and children — the inclement weather forced children to stay at home, and schools were shut for the winter holiday.
In all, Shakila lost 11 members of her family to the avalanche, including her young daughter Muqadas.
To read Shakila’s harrowing story in full, click through to the BBC article HERE.
The region has reported more snow since mid-January’s deadly avalanches, and many locals are now camping in freezing conditions, surviving on government rations. Rescue operations are over now that all the dead have been buried, although one body is still missing.
Shakila, who has no other children, had only recently moved to the village.
With Muqadas gone, Shakila says she won’t go back — the memories are too traumatic.
“I shall leave that village where my family was destroyed and I will never return.”
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