Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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From a city in ruins, memories flow

Seattle Times staff reporter; Seattle Times staff photographer

How to help the Bugna Village Complex

The Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle hopes to raise $1 million by next September for its Sister Village Project, with all donations to its Earthquake Relief Fund to go toward the project. Founded in the early 1990s, the association is primarily a social and cultural organization for the Puget Sound area's Pakistani Americans. Estimates vary on the community's size, from 1,400 according to the 2000 census, to 4,000 according to the association.

Donations to the fund are accepted at any local U.S. Bank branch. The association is applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

More information:

Some other groups doing relief work in Pakistan:

Human Development Foundation
1350 Remington Road
Suite W
Schaumburg, IL 60173

Mercy Corps
Earthquake Relief Fund
Dept. NR
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208

American Red Cross South Asia Earthquake Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013

World Vision
P.O. Box 70288
Tacoma, WA 98481

World Concern
19303 Fremont Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98133

P.O. Box 1870
Merrifield, VA 22116-9646

Northwest Medical Teams
P.O. Box 10
Portland, OR 97207

Save the Children
54 Wilton Rd.
Westport, CT 06880

Last of three parts

BALAKOT, Pakistan — The last time Nasir Aziz of Mercer Island was in this scenic city, the tea shop was filled with customers.

With its kabob stands, travel agencies, bookstores and restaurants, Balakot was a popular stop for vacationers and hikers en route to the lakes, waterfalls and mountain trails of the Kaghan Valley.

The 34-year-old software engineer, who was born in Pakistan, would meet friends in Balakot two or three times a year, stopping for tea and snacks before heading to the trails.

Now Balakot is in ruins. In this city near the October earthquake's epicenter, at least 14,000 of the 70,000 residents were killed and 7,500 were seriously injured.

Goats now wander over piles of old tires and rubble, and the loud whump-whump-whump of relief helicopters vies with the blare of car horns and the banging of sledgehammers on chunks of concrete. Dust hangs in the air.

The roof of the main mosque is at ground level, as are the tops of most buildings and houses.

Local and international aid has poured in, but the need is still overwhelming. Tent colonies have been set up all over town and along highways leading in and out of it. Aid workers serve rice from silver urns by the side of a road.

Aziz returned to Pakistan last month with other members of the Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle, which has adopted a cluster of eight heavily damaged villages in the foothills of the Himalayas.

A videographer who runs a part-time media-production business, Aziz had come to document the experience. During a side trip to Balakot and other cities, he expected to see some fallen and cracked buildings.

"I did not expect this magnitude," he said. "This is beyond my belief."

As he walked through the remains of Balakot, he became a tour guide for what once was: Over here, a plaza that once housed bookstores, electronics shops, a travel store — all flattened now. Over there, on the hillside, huge slabs of concrete that once formed a three-story hotel.

A bridge for vehicles and another for pedestrians had shifted off their bases. And there by the tea shop, a road once wound into the hills.

"You don't even see it anymore," Aziz said. "Everything's gone."

Aziz was born in Pakistan. His father, a doctor for the Pakistani foreign service, moved the family with him to assignments in numerous countries. His mother, a social worker, sometimes took him along to visit the less privileged.

"My parents taught me that to help people, you should meet them, talk with them, understand them," he said. "You have to get involved with them and help them all the way, not just halfway."

He attended college in the cities of Abbottabad and Peshawar, which, like Balakot, are in the North West Frontier Province. Even after he moved to the United States in 1993 to attend Eastern Washington University, he would return to Pakistan in the summers to hike.

He would come upon villagers who lived in mud-and-stone houses similar to those in the mountain communities that form the Bugna Village Complex, which is being helped by the Pakistan Association.

This time, "when I went to those mud houses, it was hard to hold the feelings back," he said.

An elderly villager, who had learned that Aziz has a graduate degree in geology, wanted to know whether it was safe to rebuild on his land. Aziz told him no, his land was no longer stable. It could slide.

"He looked at me with such a sad face and said: 'This is all I have, and now even this land is going to roll down from my feet,' " Aziz said.

"I was hating myself for telling him that."

Aziz wants to use what he knows about geology to help places such as Bugna and Balakot rebuild. But especially in Balakot, it could take months just to clear the rubble.

Although more than 5,000 Pakistan army troops are in the area trying to provide shelter and supplies, "we cannot touch the houses or shops without the presence of the owners there," said Lt. Col. Saeed Iqbal. "They have valuables there they want to get out. They are poor. They want to reuse the material."

Mohammad Saleem Khan, who owns much of the commercial property in Balakot, stood by what's left of his property: hills of rubble and tangled metal.

"The earthquake left only this," he said. "We cannot throw it away. We will try to rebuild on this."

Khan used to live in a four-story house with 36 rooms. Now he lives in a tent.

He had just left his house when the earthquake struck. "I felt the land go up 25 feet," he said. When the earth slammed back down, his house collapsed — killing his mother, wife, a son and a daughter. It took seven days to dig them out.

At what remains of the mosque, hundreds of men still come daily to pray, placing their prayer rugs atop the flattened roof.

Mohammed Nazir, the mosque's imam, lost his father and son in the quake. Those who still come do not ask him why the earthquake happened, Nazir said. "They are in shock. They don't want to talk about it."

"The way I look at it, God has tested us this time," he said. "There is something better in the future."

Aziz wants these stories to be seen and heard.

He plans to show his documentary to as many groups as will see it, and to post it on his Web site,

"I can't just look at it and leave," he said. "This town gave me part of my life."

He wants to do more than help people survive. He'd like to help Balakot become a thriving tourist hub once again. "This is the goal of my life right now."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or

Thomas James Hurst: 206-464-3894 or

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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