For families in Keamari, life as they knew it has been uprooted

Last week’s tragedy has left the affected reeling in its wake


Sameer Mandhro February 25, 2020
Keemari port. PHOTO: TWITTER (@UrbanPlannerNED)

KARACHI: A week on, the mysterious disaster in Keamari seems to have been swept aside with little in the way of a convincing explanation. For some families that were already struggling to survive, though, it has shattered their lives.

Zeeshan and Faiz Muhammad, both residents of Keamari, have similar tales to tell. Both have tiny shops located side by side in Pakistan Railway’s GR Colony. And both their wives were among the first victims of what was initially thought to be a deadly gas leak, killing 14 people and bringing at least 450 others to the hospital.

Muhammad was lucky in this - his wife survived. Zeeshan’s wife, Musarrat Yaseen, however, died within the hour.

Yet both men, who ended up taking their life partners back home to their villages in ambulances, are struggling. For Zeeshan, life without his beloved Musarrat is unfathomable. Muhammad, on the other hand, is finding it hard to get his family back to normal. It was late evening on February 16 when Zeeshan was sipping tea as his three-year-old daughter and six-year-old son played next to him. Out of nowhere, Musarrat collapsed.

With the help of neighbours, he flagged down a rickshaw and rushed her to Ziauddin Hospital, just 10 minutes away. His rapid response made no difference. The hospital turned Musarrat away, he said.

“We were not allowed to enter the premises,” he revealed. “My wife was in critical condition. I begged them to at least give her first aid, but they refused.”

Fighting traffic on the busy roads from Keamari to Kharadar, Zeeshan then took Musarrat to Kutyana Memon Hospital (KMH).

“I gave her a few last drops of water just outside the hospital. She was gone before the doctors arrived in the emergency ward,” he recalled, weeping.

“We had no quarrels with anyone. Our life was peaceful, but now, it is completely devastated,” he told The Express Tribune, adding that he cannot even curse anyone or do anything, given his poverty.

Instead, he has moved back to his village near Rawalpindi with his children now, since his entire family is there. Eight years ago, as a newlywed, he had brought Musarrat to Karachi from there.

“I cannot see my children crying for their mother,” he worried, in tears again. “I just appeal to everyone to pray for them.”

Muhammad, too, had a similar experience at the hospital. He had taken his wife to Ziauddin Hospital in a rickshaw as well, and they were turned away as well, he said.

“The staff would not let us enter the hospital and told me to take her to another hospital,” he narrated. Instead of doing that, the frightened couple decided to leave Karachi and go back to their village near Mithi, Tharparkar.

“I was alone with my wife and could not figure out where to go; I too was in a bad state from the gas,” he explained. As they waited at the bus stop in Machhar Colony, though, his wife’s condition worsened. And so they too ended up at KMH, where they both received treatment.

After taking some medicine, Muhammad took his wife back to their village to recuperate. A barber himself, with a small stall in Keamari, he has had to come back to the metropolis in order to earn enough money to bring her back too. “She is still not well,” he told The Express Tribune, his eyes red and his nose running from the toxic environment even now.

Now, the problem for him is how to afford treatment for her. Living in a rented house, he said that he had spent nearly Rs24,000 in the past week - money he could ill afford.

“We need more money to obtain better treatment. The government has not helped us - they only look after those who are affiliated with political parties,” he alleged.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Ziauddin Hospital told The Express Tribune that although they had asked the victims not to all enter the hospital, no patients had been turned away from the premises. The government has not yet announced any compensation for the victims.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2020.

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