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Haiti crisis triggers quake nightmare for Pakistan legend

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
Aerial view shows the devastated Pakistani town of Balakot which was virtually destroyed by a quake in October, 2005.
Aerial view shows the devastated Pakistani town of Balakot which was virtually destroyed by a quake in October, 2005.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Earthquake struck northern Pakistan, divided Kashmir region in 2005, claiming 80,000 lives
  • Imran Khan recalled being overwhelmed by the sight of an entire town being reduced to rubble
  • Khan: "Their livelihoods disappeared overnight. They had nothing, no business, money, food"
  • The politician and former cricketer said Haitians must be supported in the longer term

(CNN) -- Pakistan cricket legend Imran Khan has described how the unfolding crisis in Haiti revived harrowing memories of a similar earthquake in his own region.

The devastating 7.6 magnitude quake struck northern Pakistan and the divided Kashmir region in October 2005, claiming the lives of almost 80,000 people, according to official estimates, and leaving millions homeless.

Khan, who is now a prominent politician and campaigner for social issues in Pakistan, told CNN Thursday that he was left numbed by the scenes which greeted him as he traveled to some of the worst-affected areas in the aftermath.

"It was one of the most traumatic experiences I've ever had. Just watching human suffering, he said. "It was the children that really disturbed me ... their crushed limbs.

"There were so many people needing attention. I remember seeing makeshift hospitals where they were amputating. That was difficult to take.

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"Families were torn apart as parents lost their children and children were orphaned. Whole families were caught inside buildings, while few escaped."

Khan recalled being overwhelmed by the sight of an entire town being reduced to rubble.

"We arrived in the town of Balakot and it was totally flattened. You don't know what to do or say. So many people needing help at one time and you don't have the infrastructure, you don't have the hospitals to help."

Desperation grips Haitian capital

Balakot was one of the worst-hit places, with one in 10 of about 20,000 residents killed, according to the local government of the Mansehra district, where the town of is located. Thousands more were injured.

Pakistani authorities later planned to move the town in the country's North West Frontier Province to a completely new location, owing to its current position on a volatile fault line.

The destruction of Balakot brought home to Khan how much people had lost. "Their livelihoods disappeared overnight," he said. "They had nothing, no business, money, food.

"From what I've seen on television it's similar to what is happening now in Haiti. Clearly they (Haiti) won't have the resources to cope with it, so it will require a real outside effort."

While acknowledging the importance of the international aid effort, Khan pointed to role ordinary Pakistanis played in 2005. "It was incredible. The government was incapacitated but there were little charities and groups forming all over the area trying to help.

"I was in an earthquake-hit area on the second day and I'll never forget seeing a three-mile queue of people trying to get to what was a largely remote area to help with whatever they could put in their cars.

"The government was paralyzed but people came forward, from rich to poor, young to old."

He also pointed to the success volunteer networks had in adopting villages and towns, taking responsibility for providing basic shelter, food and medicine. "Everyone took responsibility," recalled Khan.

"Each group would look after a specific issue until the local population was able to get back on its feet.

"It's so important that the aid effort continues months after the disaster."

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