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Earthquake Crevasse in Kashmir Swallows Public Library

The only public library in the area of Kashmir administered by Pakistan was completely destroyed in the magnitude-7.6 earthquake that devastated the mountainous region October 8, causing an estimated 51,300 deaths and leaving some 3 million people homeless. The Khurshid National Library in Muzaffarabad, near the epicenter of the quake, apparently fell into one of two huge crevasses that opened up suddenly within the city.

Nuzhat Rahman, head of acquisitions for the Library of Congress field office in Islamabad, told American Libraries, “I contacted Jasmine Manzoor of Pakistan Television, who had gone to Muzaffarabad last week, and in her live reporting from there I had seen the debris of the Khurshid National Library. She confirmed that the library has caved in deep in the ground and only a small, demolished part is visible.”

“Actually,” Rahman said, “the library was not on the plain ground but on a small hillock with a beautiful view around. The earthquake was of such ferocity that according to eyewitnesses the ground and hills were moving up and down like huge waves of water, causing mountains to move and break. At several places, the crevasses opened wide enough to swallow whole buildings, and that is what happened with the library.” None of the 22 staff members have been accounted for.

The Khurshid National Library was founded in 1988 as a public library administered by the Azad Kashmir Ministry of Education. Rahman, who had visited the library on several acquisitions trips to Muzaffarabad, said the facility housed the world’s largest collection of materials on Kashmir, including more than 3,500 books and more than 40,000 documents related to the history of Jammu and Kashmir and its freedom movement.

Rahman added that the library of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Muzaffarabad was damaged but not destroyed. Although the rest of the campus was devastated and “scores of students and teachers were killed there, luckily the library staff survived,” Rahman said. “Most of the books and equipment are safe, as long as the damaged structure does not fall apart due to continuous aftershocks.”

Relief efforts to the area have been hampered by Kashmir’s mountainous terrain. Jan Egeland, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator, told reporters October 20 that the shortfall in aid for victims made the situation worse than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. “We have never had this kind of logistical nightmare ever,” he said in the October 21 Peshawar Frontier Post, and called on the international community to set up a “second Berlin airlift” to provide winterized tents, blankets, water, and other supplies to the stricken area.

Posted October 21, 2005.