“When a body is pulled out from the water, we pray that it is the last one. We don’t know how many drowned. The number of victims is being established by the number of dead pulled out or through the distress calls from their relatives,” said Edhi Madadgar Wahid Lodhi on Thursday afternoon when rescue agencies, including the Pakistan Navy, had pulled over 20 bodies from the rough sea off Seaview, Hawkesbay and Sandspit beaches. “I was eating biryani and my back was turned for just 10 minutes on Tuesday when my cousin Ijaz Ahmed disappeared. He must have gone into the water for a swim. We can’t find him anywhere,” said Mansoor Ahmed. “Ijaz is 13 years old.
This is what he looks like,” the man brought out his mobile phone to show the boy’s photograph. He said he was from Quetta and young Ijaz had brought him to Seaview to see the beach.
“Four of my nephews, all in their early twenties, Shafiullah, Ashraf, Akhtar Mohammad and Wali Mohammad, are missing,” cried Zareeb Khan hailing from Quetta. “They have been missing since 5pm on Wednesday,” he said.
“I am also looking for my cousins Fazl-i-Rehman and Zamir Khan,” said Zar Gul, holding the CNICs of two young men, both in their early to middle twenties. “These CNICs we found in their clothes that they had left on the beach before going into the water.
“We are all from Peshawar and the two left home around 4pm on Wednesday with a couple of other friends, Saeed Rehman and Gul Rehman, for outing and dinner. Saeed and Gul said that they decided to go to the beach where Fazl and Zamir wanted to go for a swim. But they didn’t return.
“We have been here since yesterday, waiting for some news about them but no one tells us anything. After they closed the beach to the public, we can’t even go to eat anything as then the people preventing others from coming to the beach won’t even let us come back and wait here till the bodies are recovered at least,” he said.
Ali Rahim said he was there from Banaras, looking for his 14-year-old nephew Nur Mohammad who left home for the beach on Tuesday, Eid day, with some other neighbourhood kids around his age. “Two of his friends’ bodies have been recovered now. But they haven’t been able to find him,” the uncle wept.
In another corner, several relatives of other missing men feared drowned at Seaview sat quietly. “We are all originally from Gilgit-Baltistan and have been settled in Karachi for a few years,” said Jamaluddin, vice president of the Punial Islamia Students Welfare Association, who said his several cousins and friends had gone missing in the tragedy.
“My uncle Ghulamuddin, a motorcycle mechanic, and cousin Junaid, a student, are missing. They are father and son. We are waiting here, bracing ourselves for the worst,” he said. “While the police and volunteer service ambulances patrol the beach, none, as you can see, are looking for anyone in the water,” pointed out Javed Akbar, a distressed relative of Fayyaz Ahmed from Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan, who had been missing since chaand raat on Monday. “The police mobile vans and ambulances are just racing from one end of the beach to the other sounding their sirens to impress the various VIPs coming to the beach to record statements with the media. None of them really cares,” he said.
Murad Niyat, another relative there, said, “Our only hope is the navy. It was the navy helicopter that carried out the real search and recovery operation here and pulled the dead out of the water at 5am on Thursday. The rest of the drowning victims got washed ashore. “This public that has now been stopped from going to the beach, the police have only now been able to control, around 1pm on Thursday. Otherwise they were wandering about the whole place and coming in everyone’s way.
“And these policemen are here now after a tragedy of this magnitude. Why weren’t they here earlier, to stop people from going to the beach and into the water when they know that the sea is rough during the monsoons and there is also a ban on going into the water with the Section 144 imposed?” he said.
Two Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) lifeguards at the Seaview beach said they did all they could to discourage people from going into the water but no one listened. “They don’t care for their lives, and when something happens, they blame others for it, saying no one cared. We are deployed here from morning till evening with minimal equipment or ambulances at our disposal. We can only warn or jump in after someone if we see him or her drowning. And we are only a handful of people managing huge crowds of beach-goers. So it’s better safe than be sorry,” said senior CBC lifeguard Syed Muzammil Hussain.
“The picnickers grab us by our collars when someone has drowned. They scream and yell and want to know how we let it happen. How conveniently they forget those red flags we place on the beach asking them not to cross the line, how we request them to stay out of the water. We are only interested in their safety but they don’t understand,” said Bashir Ahmed, another CBC lifeguard. “We understand that there are very few spots for outing and recreation here and these are frustrated folk coming to the beach with various problems such as no power at home due to loadshedding, no water due to the current shortage, etc, but they should at least value their lives,” he said.