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East Texas Pakistanis mourn loss of relatives


10 11 05

 

 

 
HINA ALAM, The Lufkin Daily News
 
October 11, 2005 – The ripples of Saturday’s earthquake in Pakistan have shattered the lives of people in a small Pakistani community in Lufkin, halfway across the hemisphere.

On Monday night, as they gathered for evening prayers at a small mosque on White Avenue in Lufkin, just one question was asked as each arrived: “What’s the death toll up to now?” And then the conversation was all about whether they were able to contact their family in Pakistan and whether everyone was OK back home. Earlier in the day, Shiren Khaled spoke to her family. Four members of the family of her older sister’s husband were killed in the earthquake when the Pakistan Towers – a buzzing business center – collapsed. She and her sisters were only just starting to recover from the fury of Hurricane Rita when the earthquake toppled their world again. “Our villages – our homes – in Haripur, Mansera and Abbatabad have been completely flattened,” Shiren said, choking. Late Saturday evening Shiren’s sister Fauzia Akhter pointed to her daughter, Anam, and her nieces and nephew – Nashwa, Noor and Hussain Khaled – images of rubble on television and said, “That used to be our village.” The children looked on at the pile of dead and dilapidation in horror. “When I spoke to my family, they said mountainous regions have simply been flattened,” Shiren said Monday morning. “Large areas look as if they were always without civilization. And once they were teeming with life.” There are large areas that are unaccessible by road because of road blocks and landslides, she said. “My sister who lives in Pakistan simply couldn’t talk or describe any of the destruction,” she said. “She kept crying over the phone.” Shiren described what her sister had seen and managed to say. “Children and old people are screaming for help from under fallen buildings. Victims are calling rescuers – family and friends – from under the fallen buildings on their cell phones. They are pleading for help,” Shiren said. “But the buildings that have fallen on them are so heavy that their family and friends are looking on helpless. And that is horrible.” Shiren’s sister witnessed a rescue in which a 12-year-old girl had to have her legs cut off for her life to be saved. She saw another girl whose head was nearly battered by the part of a building falling on her. The girl was dead. “It’s like doomsday,” Shiren said. Lufkin, Nacogdoches and Jasper are home to 25 Pakistani families consisting of 140 people, including children. Most of them are either doctors or owners of community businesses. Late Monday, before evening prayers, the men exchanged conversations they had held with their families in Pakistan. Or they simply exchanged emotions. “I’m not able to watch TV at all,” said Simab Khan, owner of Homer Mini Mart on U.S. Highway 69 south. “The sight of those dead children is heart-wrenching. I switch off the TV, but after a few minutes I switch it back on. I want to know what’s happening.” “My mother must be really upset. She fell sick when she heard about Hurricane Rita. I cannot imagine how she’s doing now,” said Dr. Munawwer Khurshid, a neurologist. “My uncle’s sister said the earthquake was so powerful that when they first started to feel it and got up to leave the house, they couldn’t walk. The ground was shaking that much, that bad.” The others gasped. Dr. Imran Nazeer, a nephrologist, said his nephew was saved by the skin of his teeth. The little boy was standing in the balcony of his apartment when it started to fall off. His older brother, seeing the balcony collapse, rushed and pulled the boy into the apartment. “The apartment was on the fifth or sixth floor,” Nazeer said. “It’s been a huge psychological shock for him.” “He was saved by God’s grace,” said the others in unison. Nazeer said the building was constructed about five years ago. “Labor being cheap and wood being expensive, buildings in Pakistan are made of cement, bricks and concrete,” Khurshid said. “They also last long, which is important because most people there cannot afford to rebuild.” The Pakistani community here will be sending financial help to Pakistan through the Islamic Circle of North America, said Khaled Karim, Shiren’s husband and owner of a gas station. “We are urging people to donate cash to either the Edhi Trust or the International Red Cross,” said Faiz Rehman, president of the National Council of Pakistani Americans. As there is a need for physicians, a few doctors are leaving this week in their own capacity, he added. “People of Lufkin have been very nice to us. We’d like to thank them,” said Dr. Munir Ahmad, an oncologist. “We got a lot of calls from our colleagues about our families’ welfare in Pakistan.” The others nodded in unison. All local celebrations for Ramadan have been called off. “We won’t be having any parties this year. All that money will be donated to send to Pakistan,” Ahmad said. “There will be no celebration for Ramadan this year, no festivities, no Eid. We are praying for the people there.” Hina Alam’s e-mail address is halam@coxNews.com.

Article Courtesy: The Lufkin Daily News