This article explores the local impact of the catastrophic earthquake in northern Pakistan on 8 October 2005. Drawing on field research, including interviews with 40 earthquake survivors, the post-disaster analysis presented here focuses upon risk awareness and the reactions of respondents to the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that devastated areas of Azad Jammu and Kashmir State, and North-West Frontier Province. The analysis provides insights into local perceptions of seismic hazard and exposure as well as survivors' priorities with regard to rebuilding and reconstruction. The article suggests that the tragedy of the devastating earthquake is entangled in a deeper knot of causal factors that are social, economic and political in nature. Rapid population growth, urbanisation, changing building styles, environmental degradation and lack of preparedness and mitigation are associated with the circumstances that place the population at risk. Remarks concerning present and future risk reduction efforts are included.