Panic gripped the city on Thursday as "news" spread that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) would go on a two-day strike following the killings in Orangi Town.
An Urdu TV channel first spread what emerged as a rumour when it ran a ticker stating that the MQM had announced the strike. The MQM denied it and the channel removed the ticker. But the damage was done.
Residents decided it was better to be safe than sorry and rushed home. Meanwhile, with memories of past strikes fresh in their minds, commuters flooded into fuel stations hoping to fill up their tanks before the pumps were cordoned off.
Fuel station owners also decided to jump the gun and shut their stations down pre-emptively. The few that remained open soon ran out of petrol and CNG. A station at Khayaban-e-Bahria in DHA, for instance, was left with only one functioning filling unit out of its 10 installed.
Over 400 people armed with plastic bottles, cans and other containers thronged the last remaining filling unit, blocking the waiting cars. The vehicles stood frozen, unable to retreat or move forward waiting for the crowd to disperse.
Jawad was in DHA for work when his motorcycle ran out of fuel. "I went to four different pumps," he explained. "If I do not get fuel from this pump, I will have to leave my motorcycle here if the pump owner allows me to."
Amir from Akhtar Colony had been at the station for about three hours but was no closer to a full tank than Jawad. "I will drag my motorcycle to my relative's house in DHA and ask them for some fuel to take my wife and daughter back home."
"The people with plastic bottles have engulfed the only remaining filling unit," said Albert, another commuter who had been waiting for four hours. The pump manager, Khwaja Altaf, told The Express Tribune that the fuel truck was stuck in a traffic jam near Punjab Chowrangi and was not expected to reach before 10 pm. He said the rush would ease up once it arrived.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2011.
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