The skies were overcast in most parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa throughout Sunday. But no one in their wildest imagination would have expected death and destruction to actually rain down from the skies. In the evening, a massive rainstorm barrelled through the province, felling trees and causing buildings to collapse, leaving at least 35 people dead and many more injured in Peshawar and its adjoining districts.
The storm left a trail of destruction in the provincial capital where fallen trees, rubble from buildings and mobile phone towers had blocked several roads, while some neighbourhoods were swamped with up to three feet of rainwater.
A man carries his injured daughter at a hospital following heavy rain and winds in Peshawar on April 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP
Peshawar’s Deputy Commissioner Riaz Mehsud said rescue operations were being hampered by blocked roads and a breakdown in communications. The military was called in to assist in rescue efforts, equipped with ground penetrating radars, concrete cutters and sniffer dogs, according to a tweet by the chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa.
Mehsud confirmed at least 35 deaths and injuries to over 200 people. Jamil Shah, the spokesperson for the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), the city’s biggest health facility, feared the death toll could go up as casualties were still pouring in. LRH Director Dr Taj said the hospital was full to its capacity and could not entertain more. “We have no space for more casualties,” he added.
People arrive at a hospital after their relatives were injured during heavy rain and winds in Peshawar on April 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP
A woman and her five children were among the dead. They died when their mud brick house collapsed in the Wahid Garhi neighbourhood on Charsadda Road, according to residents. “The three-room house caved in, killing six people on the spot,” Zareen Khan, a taxi driver who shifted the bodies to the LRH, told The Express Tribune. He claimed that several people were still trapped under the rubble.
In a near-similar incident, two minor girls were killed and their mother was injured in the Scheme Chowk area.
The rainstorm, described as a ‘mini cyclone’ by officials at the provincial meteorological department, felled many trees on the main roads, killing and injuring motorists and pedestrians. Charsadda Road was blocked while poor visibility on the roads caused several deadly traffic accidents.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Rescue 1122 spokesperson Bilal Faizi said they received at least 10 building collapse calls from across the city. “Buildings have collapsed in Badhu Samar Bagh, Budhnai Pul, Charsadda Road and Sadidabad areas of the city,” he added.
Two platoons of Pakistan Army were assisting the rescue operation, according to Rescue 1122 Director General Dr Asad Ali Khan. He said the rescue operation was almost complete but feared that the death toll could go up as several injured were in a critical condition.
In the neighbouring Charsadda district, a man and his wife were among three persons killed and over 16 wounded in roof collapse incidents. The powerful storm also felled electricity pylons and trees on College Road, Mardan Road, Peshawar Road and Tangi Road of Charsadda, while 20 huts were reduced to ashes when a fire triggered by a lightning bolt swept through the Sardaryab picnic point
Mushtaq Ali Shah, director of the provincial meteorological department, described the storm as a “mini cyclone with wind speeds of 110 kilometres per hour”. He added that the cyclone had lost speed but heavy rainfall was expected in the province’s northern districts over the next three to four hours.
He called it the third disaster of its kind in the country’s history and the first-ever such one in K-P. “This kind of windstorm accompanied by rain had been recorded in Sargodha and Sialkot but never in K-P,” Shah said admitting that they had not issued any prior warning. “We were not expecting a windstorm of this high intensity. We were only expecting rainfall and thunderstorm,” Shah added.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his grief over the loss of life and property. “He extended condolences to the aggrieved families and asked provincial government and disaster management authorities to gear up rescue efforts so as to control the damage,” a statement by his office said.
Chief Minister Pervez Khattak put all hospitals and Provincial Disaster Management Authority on high alert to deal with the natural calamity. According to an official handout, the chief minister also directed district administrations to provide provisional shelters to the people affected by the rainstorm. He also asked MPAs of the party to supervise relief activities in their constituencies.
Meanwhile, Bahria Town management has also sent a relief team, including a mobile hospital and medical staff, to Peshawar to participate in the relief operation.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2015.