Staring over the rough sea, Saeed Rehman could not get over the tragedy that had struck him on Wednesday.
He clearly remembered his cousin, Zar Mir Shah, holding onto his kameez before going deeper into the water with another cousin. Within a few minutes, both of them had vanished from sight. “I ran off to tell the police but no one came to help. I am still waiting for their bodies to be washed ashore.”
Almost a dozen families interviewed by The Express Tribune claim that their loved ones drowned at the Clifton beach during Eid. Their bodies have yet to be found.
The families’ claims contradict those of government officials about the number of people missing. According to Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, his office had received complaints about 23 persons who were drowned and all the bodies had been recovered. “Seventeen bodies have been handed over to the families while others are awaiting legal formalities. We are still carrying out the rescue work.” The families at the beach, however, claimed that around a dozen more were still missing.
The families of these missing persons, along with police and rescue workers, occupied the beach spot in front of Dolmen Mall, with the sea being off-limit to the public.
Men in kameez shalwar sat on rocks, others lay on the silver sand. Yet others had erected makeshift shelters, anticipating a long wait.
Fareed Khan spent his entire Eid holidays in this state. His 16-year-old son, Shiraz, who he claims was washed away on the first day of Eid, is still missing. “This is my third day here,” he said, his puffy red eyes a testimony to his claim. “Just like the others, my family is waiting for the sea to throw him back.”
A young boy from Baldia said that his cousins, Mohammandi and Noor Mohammad, had come for a picnic on the first day and never returned home.
“There was another person with them who luckily survived. After regaining consciousness, he told us on Tuesday evening that they had drowned.”
The families lambasted the officials for delays in rescue operations. “Instead of rescuing, they are busy having tea breaks. The helicopter hovered overhead for two hours and then went away. Everyone is waiting for the bodies to be washed ashore instead of locating them. How long will we keep sitting here?” asked an elderly man, looking for Shafiullah and Mohammad Ashraf. “We do not even have access to food and water here.”
Most of the missing men were Pakhtuns who hail from the northern areas and are employed as labourers in Karachi. Zar Mir Shah has left behind two small children and a widow. “We have not informed his wife as yet. We will just take his body to the village and break the news to her then,” said Saeed sadly.
Waiting for news
The scenes outside the mortuary of Jinnah Postgraduate Centre (JPMC) presented an equally depressing picture.
“Bhai, an ambulance is coming,” 30-year-old Naeema called out to her younger brother.
“No, it isn’t,” the boy replied. “The ambulance will turn in this direction if it is coming from the beach.”
The woman is Naeema whose younger brother, Sabir, 19, and niece, Hamza, 16, drowned at Clifton beach on the second day of Eid. She, along with other family members, was waiting outside the mortuary on Thursday. The family lives in Korangi 2-1/2. “Everyone will blame me. I made the picnic plan. What will I tell Ami?” she said, before bursting into tears. “I warned them not to go too deep,” she tried to justify, more to console herself than others around her.
Hamza’s mother, Asiya, could barely speak as she waited for the ambulances. “Hamza was my eldest son.”
Dozens of family members of missing persons waited anxiously outside the mortuary for news of their loved ones. They desperately paced the corridors, restless for news that wouldn’t come.
Ajmal, 20, had come to Karachi from Mansehra about four months ago to work with his elder brother, Tazeem Ahmed. “We were both supporting [financially] our family,” said Ahmed. Ajmal, along with 15 friends and relatives had left for the Clifton beach soon after Eidul Fitr prayers. They had played cricket near beach before Nasrullah, Imran Sindhi and Ajmal went for a swim. “We would have all drowned for sure,” said Nasrullah. “Ajmal was just a few feet away from us. He cried for help. He drowned and I couldn’t do anything to save him,” he said, before holding his head between his knees.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2014.