On April 10th, 1988 the Ojhri camp disaster took place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. There was a blast in the ammunition depot in Rawalpindi and rockets and ammunition were expelled into the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi killing 1300 people.
At that time I was studying in Grade 7 and my elder sister was in Grade 11 (O’Levels) in the same school. My brother was doing his A’Levels in another school in the same city.
One morning in the middle of classes we heard a loud blast followed by a rumbling noise. We looked outside and we saw a big mushroom cloud of black smoke ominously filling the sky. It looked something like the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb. Was our country being attacked?
Now our teachers had no clue what to do in such a situation. This is also the time when nobody had mobile phones so it was not possible to contact our family. We have a lot of earthquakes in our country as the northern part falls on an earthquake belt and the normal response is to go out of the building and into an open area.
So that is what the staff decided to do with us. We made lines and class by class we were escorted out of the school building and into the open. Little did we know that it was raining missiles and the last thing to do was to be out there in the open.
As I stood outside I had the comfort of knowing that my sister was nearby. However not knowing what was happening, and indeed what was happening in the rest of the city where my parents and brother were was extremely disturbing. The incessant rumbling was not helping either. I began to cry.
My sister, who till then was quite happy that they were missing their Maths class, when she saw me crying, realized that matters were quite serious. She came over to console me. Some of the teachers had begun to recite verses from the Quran. Were we all going to die?
In the meantime my father, a retired Army Brigadier was at home when the disaster took place. He immediately decided to bring the children back from school. He doubted that the school would have taken the correct precautions in such circumstances.
As he reversed the car, he heard the sound of a missile approaching. From his years of training in the army he knew how close it was and he braced himself for the end.
(To find out what happened next, read Part 2…)
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