Image: Pakistani earthquake survivors
B.k. Bangash  /  AP
Earthquake survivors live in their shelter in Dubri Bandi, Pakistan, situated at edge of a massive landslide which killed about 1,800 people in October 2005.
updated 10/7/2006 3:38:30 PM ET 2006-10-07T19:38:30

A year after surviving Pakistan's devastating earthquake, Dubri Bandi's villagers still live in fear.

The might of the 7.6-magnitude quake of Oct. 8, 2005, is evident across the Himalayan terrain in Pakistan's part of Kashmir. Towering over this isolated settlement, Dina mountain was cleaved in two.

Most homes in Dubri Bandi collapsed in the tremor. But it was spared from the worst of the disaster: an enormous rockslide that swept rice paddies and houses away in nearby villages, entombing as many as 1,800 people.

Only 12 people died in Dubri Bandi, crushed by fallen timbers and roofs. A year later, its villagers live in makeshift shelters perched on a sheer slope of stone-terraced maize fields above an enormous expanse of car-sized boulders and pine trees that snapped like twigs.

The rugged Pashtun tribespeople who came here 300 years ago from Afghanistan have started building cement foundations for new homes. But they fear the land above or beneath them could shift at any moment and cast them all into the valley.

"At night when the wind blows, the children are frightened and hide in their beds," said 40-year-old tribesman Zulfiqar Khan. "There are 43 houses here and they are all in danger from another landslide. But we have no choice. We have no other place to go."

Nearby, fallen rock that blocked two mountain streams has created a huge lake, estimated to be 85 meters (280 feet) deep, that is threatening the town of Hattian Bala a few kilometers away. The Pakistani army has constructed two massive spillways to alleviate the threat of flooding, but villagers say the water level is still rising by five centimeters (two inches) a day.

More than 80,000 dead
The earthquake killed more than 80,000 people in Pakistan and left over 3 million homeless. A vast swath of the country's north — and India's portion of Kashmir — was devastated. In many places, whole mountainsides were hewn off.

When Dina split, its rubble buried the 70 homes in the nearby village of Lodiabad and only four of its 250 people survived. Three other villages were heavily damaged, killing hundreds.

"I ran out of my house and looked back and saw rocks falling from the mountain, flying through the air like balls of cotton," said Mohammed Sangir Khan, 40, a Lodiabad survivor living in a tent camp.

The quake struck with a roar and the mountain collapsed with a massive jolt, he said. "I thought judgment day had come."

He lost 27 of his relatives, including his 15-year-old son and 7-year old daughter. His mother's body was the only corpse retrieved from the buried village.

Military officials say 560 people died in the rockslide. Villagers say at least 1,800 perished.

Without alternative land to settle on and reluctant to live in camps, villagers in Dubri Bandi are building new homes alongside the traditional old ones made of wood, stone and earth that collapsed like sandcastles under a wave.

Just about the only building that remained intact was a 100-year old mosque made of teak. Villagers still pray there five times a day.

To meet the requirements for receiving compensation from the government, the villagers are building quake-proof structures with concrete foundations and pillars. But what they really want is to be shifted to safer land elsewhere.

However, Sardar Nawaz Khan, chief of the local camp management organization that deals with people displaced by landslides, maintained that everyone who had been living in a landslide-prone area had been moved.

Basic methods for complex structures
Villagers also complain the compensation money is slow in coming and the construction materials are difficult and expensive to transport up the mountain — using horse, donkey or four-wheel-drive jeep that must inch up the precipitous track at walking pace.

Like most of the more than 600,000 families who need to rebuild in the Pakistani quake zone, their concrete homes won't be complete until December or January, by which time more than up to 2 feet of snow has often fallen on the village, about 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level.

So Dubri Bandi villagers are preparing for a second winter in tents or flimsy wooden and corrugated iron lean-tos — a daunting prospect even for these hardy mountain people. In the relatively mild winter last year, most villagers were sickened by bronchitis and two died.

"We spent last winter in tents, burning up our firewood to keep warm. We'll do the same this year," said Mohammed Farid Khan, 70, a stonemason who has lived in Dubri Bandi all his life. "Where else can we go?"

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