Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf led a somber memorial service yesterday in Pakistani Kashmir to mark the first anniversary of a massive earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people across Pakistan and India.
Sirens wailed and a minute's silence was held at 8:52am, when the 7.6 magnitude earthquake first struck across northern Pakistan and in the war-divided region of Kashmir, leaving more than 100,000 injured and 3.5 million homeless.
Musharraf led the memorial ceremony in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, at the grounds of the Azad Jammu Kashmir University, which was destroyed in the earthquake.
Hundreds of people stood in silence in the normally bustling main street of Muzaffarabad, one of the cities worst hit by the disaster.
Musharraf praised the massive relief effort -- led by Pakistan's military -- that sprang into action immediately after the quake to rescue people from the rubble, provide relief and begin a large-scale reconstruction program.
"It is a victory for the government, for the army, for the people, for the non-governmental organizations and for the world that supported it," Musharraf told at least 1,000 people who attended the service.
"It was due to the help and generosity of the whole world and the NGOs that we were able to improve the situation," he said.
The Pakistani president also urged people affected by the quake to be patient, promising his government was working to improve their lives.
But the task of rebuilding is daunting, even with pledges of US$6.7 billion in aid. More than 600,000 homes, 6,500 schools and 800 clinics and hospitals were destroyed by the quake, as well as more than 6,000km of roads.
In Muzaffarabad, the force of the quake toppled hundreds of buildings, trapping thousands under the rubble. The quake triggered massive landslides that sheared thousands of tons of soil from towering mountains surrounding the city. Ghostly white scars still remain on the mountain faces where the land was cut away.
But life here has assumed a degree of normality among the partially cleared ruins. Hotels are undergoing reconstruction and doing a brisk trade. Rubble and collapsed minarets no longer block the narrow alleys of Medina Market. Crudely repaired stores are well stocked. Across the city, children attend class at schools set up in tents and prefabricated buildings.
Displaced families still crowd city parks and hillsides, living in crudely erected shacks or under canvas. The government says approximately 40,000 people remain in tents and that reconstruction has started on one-fifth of the earthquake-proof homes destroyed by the disaster.
Hundreds of memorial services were held across Pakistan to mark the disaster, which sparked a massive outpouring of humanitarian relief and reconstruction aid that continues in many of the affected areas.
Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were expected to travel throughout the northern Pakistani quake zones yesterday to attend ceremonies and inaugurate facilities that have been built in the year since the earthquake ravaged cities, towns and mountain villages.
Approximately 100 members of the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami group held a prayer service at a small Muzaffarabad mosque.
In Islamabad, approximately 200 people observed a minute's silence at the site of the luxury Margalla Towers apartment building that collapsed in the quake, killing 74 people.