Eleven years have gone by and I still remember the horrible episode that I have ever witnessed in my life which I can never forget. It was the morning of August 11, 2007. I was working as a teacher at a private school those days and was getting ready to leave for work when I heard a big bang. First I thought it was sound of explosion from nearby Khundroo army depot where “expired ammunition disposing process” was a routine. Khundroo military ammunition depot in district Anantnag is situated some three Kilometres away from my village.
But the explosions continued and so did my curiosity. Blasts which shook my house sparked alarm. When I came out of my house to enquire what was happening, I saw the villagers already huddled in groups. Suddenly a big bang rattled the area. This time it shook the earth beneath my feet forcing every one gathered there to lie down in fear. Then all hell broke loose.
Moments later, I saw people running in fear, some crying while fleeing away from the areas surrounding the Khundroo depot. Among them where even men in uniform without arms and some even bare feet. Cries of “Bago, Bago (run away, run away) could be heard all over.
And we came to know that the Khundroo depot, one of the biggest ordnance depots in Kashmir, spread across several kilometres, had exploded. It had accidentally caught fire. It looked so dangerous, as if we were in the midst of a war. The unending and deafening blasts shook the earth as the depot went up into flames. Clouds of smoke started billowing out from the place as everybody took it as if this was the last day of their lives.
As the high range and dangerous weapons were stored in the depot, authorities immediately issued a red alert and asked some fourteen villages within the radius of five Kilometres to evacuate to safer places.
Thousands of people from adjoining areas abandoned their homes and fled to safety. I myself took some children and women in my brother’s car and carried them to Mattan, the safer area, some five kilometres away from my village. On the way the scene was chaotic with men, women and children running to safety with cries and shrieks filling the air. Vehicles filled with people clogged the roads. Police was nowhere nor where there any government officials.
Local youth had taken charge of traffic control and lend a helping hand to needy. A group of youth stopped at the village entrance and asked to go back and bring the left over people. They assured me they will take care of my family members till my return. I salute those brave young men for their courage and determination. The spontaneity to mobilise and lend a helping hand in crisis times is not new for our youth.
Though Mattan was safer place, because a hill separated it from Khundroo, but as I reached there, the situation was extremely tense as the area was flooded with people from all over.
Residents of the area soon made arrangements for the stay and food for thousands of those who arrived there from the villages surrounding Khandroo. In a shortest possible time tents were erected and meals served. However at that fearful moment, no one was in a mood to have meals.
I made three trips to my village to ferry some stranded children and elderly but could not locate all. Later someone told me, that some of my family members have reached to Anchidora and Mir Danter, the safer villages, where our relatives lived. That day, it happened with all families. In panic rush families got scattered with some landing in one village and some other.
However, showing their generous nature people offered best possible hospitality to the evacuees at the time of need. In Anantnag a big camp was established by the locals at Markazi Eid Gagh and a lunger (Community kitchen) ran for several days.
Every Kashmiri came forward with helping hand and even I saw some people in Anantnag town moving through the streets in search of shelterless, pleading with everyone to become their guests. It was heartening to see Kashmiri spirit alive during that adverse situation.
Next day when the situation was to some extent under control even though bombs were still exploding we came back home. But it shocked me again, when I came to know some people had lost their precious lives and injured themselves while trying to put out the raging fire at the camp in order to save villages. It devastated me more when I heard that the brother of one of my friends from Tailwani village, who was a fireman had also lost his precious life in the incident, May Allah rest all of their souls in peace. One of my cousins who was also a firefighter was also seriously injured during the beginning of incident.
This hazardous episode left some people dead, some were disabled for life besides the huge property loss for the people living in the adjoining areas. The shells were scattered in the adjoining villages of depot. Accidental blasts from unexploded shells continued to take toll of civilian population in nearby villages for a long time.
Though the government compensated for the property loss later no answer came for the haunting question. Why ammunition depots near civilian areas and for whose protection?
Author can be reached at: [email protected]
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