KARACHI : It was around 4am on Thursday and the entire household was asleep. Five of them would never wake up.
A landslide in Karachi’s Baldia Town neighbourhood killed five and injured four others of a family on Thursday, reminding the threat that ‘encroached’ hills of the city pose as standing time bombs ready to explode at given any moment.
The ill-fated house situated on a hill in Gulshan-e-Ghazi of the area was hit by a boulder at around 4am when the family was sleeping inside, Baldia Town SP Asif Razzak told The Express Tribune, adding that the neighbours initially tried to carry out the rescue operation on their own.
“The hill was encroached and due to unplanned housing, the rescuers found it difficult to move up the machinery to remove the giant rock that crushed the house,” he said, holding the residents responsible for the tragic incident.
They were informed about the hazards of living on the hill and were warned several times to leave the area, he added, but they never listened. Instead, he said, they put up resistance against anti-encroachment drives.
The house was owned by 45-year-old Zameer Gul, who, along with his two daughters, 22-year-old Kainat and 18-year-old Iqra, 11-year-old son Abdullah, and another 11-year-old relative Atif, died in the boulder strike.
Meanwhile, his wife, 38-year-old Nageena Bibi, and three more daughters, 13-year-old Roma, 12-year-old Zehra and seven-year-old Muskan, were injured and immediately shifted to a hospital.
According to a neighbour, Hazrat Gul, who took part in the rescue operation, announcements were made on the mosque’s loudspeakers to inform the neighbours about the incident and to gather them for help.
“The machinery arrived later as the sun rose,” he said. “Earlier, the people tried to remove the rock themselves but they remain unable to do so. Meanwhile, the injured were taken out and rushed to the hospital.”
Refuting claims that the authorities had informed them about the land-sliding threat earlier, he said that no official bothered to visit the area to see the living conditions. “We haven’t encroached upon the hill,” he asserted. “We have bought the space.”
It took around five hours to complete the rescue operation and since the heavy machinery was unable to reach the accident site, all the work was done by engaging manpower from the residents as well.
District West Deputy Commissioner Asif Jameel said the residents were told even before they started building their houses that living on the hill was dangerous and that they were encroaching upon state land.
He said that as mushrooming of housing and settlements was witnessed across the city and particularly in this area where law and order had remained a crucial issue, such things continued unabated.
Whenever the authorities tried to mount an operation against the encroachments, they were met with strong opposition from the residents. “Sometimes, we were even shot at,” Jameel said, explaining the situation.
He mentioned Wednesday’s anti-encroachment drive in Machhar Colony, in which the protesters set ablaze an excavator machine worth Rs20 million. “In situations like these, we are left with no option but to back off.” He added that the residents have been given a final warning to leave the hill immediately or else the district administration, with the help of the police, will move them forcibly.
“There are still chances of more landslides. And people have been warned of an operation,” said the deputy commissioner, adding that land-grabbers are completely responsible for this.
In October 2015, 13 people – including seven children – were killed in a similar manner in Gulistan-e-Jauhar neighbourhood. The victims were from three families and hailed from southern Punjab.