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February 8, 2001 - February 9, 2001

The indomitable spirit of Gujarat Friday, February 9, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The devastation unleashed by the killer earthquake in Gujarat was so enormous that for a moment the tragedy seemed measureless and unending. Innumerable images of death, destruction and gloom, from Ahmedabad to Kutch, threatened to blow out the flicker of hope one would have liked to hold on to. But what's remarkable, however, is the alacrity with which the people of Gujarat are trying to regain the shattered pieces of their lives.

A fortnight away from the tragedy, the doddering steps of a state ravaged by a tragedy so great, are now gradually giving way to a steady pace. The silver lining to this tragedy is definitely the undaunted spirit of Gujarat and the overwhelming response of people.

Rather than agonising over their ill-fortune and waiting for relief to reach them, what seem utmost in the minds of the quake-affected including those who have lost everything in this disaster is rebuilding their lives. The survival of many bravehearts, from the mother-son duo in Ahmedabad to eleven-month-old Murtaza in Bhuj, has mustered a sense of hope and optimism among the people here: That all is not lost after all. That, coupled with countless stories of compassion and courage, made one realise that even though human lives were lost, humanity and the fighting spirit of the people were intact.

The earthquake was not the first calamity which struck Gujarat in recent years the onslaught of disasters has been continuing, from droughts, floods and earthquakes. But the people have braved it all.

United in grief that seems to be one of the greatest positive outcomes of this calamity. Every bit of the collective effort signifies the empathy of those not even directly affected by the calamity from the Gujarati Diaspora and the countless emails flooding the Internet expressing solidarity, to the endeavours of national\ international voluntary agencies, corporate houses and tales of individual pluck.

Within minutes of the tragedy, community kitchens and temporary accommodation sprang up in several areas of Ahmedabad. Friends, colleagues and acquaintances came together to chip in whatever way they could offering refuge, money and the most, consolation. Help poured in from unexpected corners from arch rival Pakistan and strife-torn Israel to that surly neighbour one never spoke to.

For many, the hot cup of tea offered by a complete stranger during those cold, lonely nights, when they were homeless, will remain forever etched on their minds and hearts. Despite their personal losses, people were selflessly involved in rescue and relief operations. The community spirit cutting across all lines displayed in the aftermath of the earthquake, was indeed remarkable.

Notwithstanding the terror experienced by the Amdavadis and reports of stealing, looting, family feuds over property, what really bound the people of Gujarat is these calamitous times was their mettle and their spirit maybe a little bowed, but not broken. For the victims themselves, the pain of losing their loved ones and witnessing their dream houses collapsing will perhaps take a long time to heal. But the signs of revival are all there. Kutcchis and Amdavadis, leaving their pain and fear behind, are starting their lives afresh. And knowing their attitude of self-reliance, their innate sense of enterprise and tenacity this time around the undisputed winner will be the Gujarati spirit.

Advani calls for total reconstruction of Kutch Friday, February 9, 2001

RAJKOT: Union Home minister L K Advani on Thursday called for total reconstruction of quake-ravaged Kutch. "The entire Kutch district has to be reconstructed", he said.

Talking to reporters at the Rajkot airport, Advani accompanied by Union sports minister Uma Bharati, said help and guidance of other quake-prone nations like Japan and others would be taken for the reconstruction of Kutch.

Terming the calamity as a national disaster, Advani an MP from Gujarat said that though the loss was immense, the morale of the people was not down. He said, "I had seen the devastation in Morbi after the Machhu dam burst. Today Morbi is even better than what it used to be. So is the case with Surat which was hit by plague. Today's Surat is different to what it used to be before the plague, he said adding he hoped for a similar thing in Kutch.

When asked what prompted the state government to seek an account from social organisations and non-governmental organisations like Akshar Purshottam Swaminarayan sect, Leuva Patel Samaj, and Abhiyan, the Union minister pleaded ignorance. "I will ask the state government about this", he said. However, finance minister Vajubhai Vala said that "there was no question of asking for an account from these NGOs. It was only done to prevent duplication in relief work."

Admitting that there were some initial problems in relief and rescue operations in Bhuj, Advani said the situation was normal now.

Shikhar builders booked Friday, February 9, 2001

AHMEDABAD: After days of a wait-and-watch approach, the city police finally booked offences against builders of Shikhar and Sarvadarshan in Satellite area, taking suo motu cognisance of the lives lost in the collapse of these buildings due to the earthquake on January 26.

Shikhar had recorded the highest number of casualties claiming 81 lives.

According to sources the builders had reportedly pressured the residents who had suffered due the collapsed structures, against going to the police.

Sources said that "builders had tried to discourage residents from lodging complaints by promising them an alternative flat in their other newer projects, free of cost".

Finally, however, the Satellite police lodged complaints with senior police inspector FA Gohil as the complainant. Apart from these nine more complaints were registered against builders, architects, engineers and, AMC and AUDA's concerned officials.

Offences were booked against Subhash Nyalchand Shah of Shikhar, engineer Sanjay Shah, chairman of the Geratpur Bhagyalaxmi society, structural engineer and AMC officials.

At the Sarvadarshan project, offences were booked against builder Rashminbhai Patel, architect SK Parekh, contractor Upendrabhai Prahladbhai Patel and AUDA officials. This flat claimed two lives.

The other cases booked were against the involved persons in the Akshar apartment, Purvi apartment, Vishwadarshan apartment, Mangalam flats, Shitalbag apartment, Jashodapark, Pujal apartment, Canara Bank building and Shrifal apartment.

Ahmedabad in seismic zone three, says seismologist Friday, February 9, 2001

AHMEDABAD: It may be time for Amdavadis to heave a sigh of relief as experts believe that the city has not been upgraded to seismic zone four. Chairman of the National Seismic Zoning Committee, Dr Anand Arya, said on Wednesday that the city was still in zone three and Bhuj in zone 5.

"The quake measured a shade lower than the zone three limit on the Richter scale," said Dr Arya adding, "It may have been a coincidence but the post office building of the city had been fitted with an accelograph and a seismograph just two days before quake hit the city. It is however true that the zone three limit of seven on Richter scale was almost reached in Ahmedabad."

Dr Arya who is also the chairman of Bureau of Standard for Earthquake Engineering, Government of India, made these revelations at a training session for a large number of structural and civil engineers attached with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority.

He added, "Though it is impossible to predict earthquakes it would be prudent to believe that the next big quake in Gujarat will not come for at least another century. The last one that devastated the state in a similar fashion was way back in 1819 and one hopes that the time period is maintained."

He however was quick to add that instances like that which ravaged Anjar could not be ruled out "and so we all must be prepared for any such future eventuality. At least four to five such smaller quakes are possible."

The senior earthquake engineer has been in the city since last three days visiting different building sites in the city and suggesting ways to repair or retrofact damaged buildings. "We have to survey a minimum of 11,000 multi-storey structures in different parts of Gujarat -- the prime being Bhuj, Ahmedabad and places like Bhachau," he added.

Dr Arya made some revelations in context with building collapses in Ahmedabad. "In whichever building-collapse sites I visited, most of the low-rises in the city have a soft-storey problem. In layman's terms the ground floor (parking space) is bereft of any walls while the upper storeys are heavy and stiff with walls covering the pillars. This imbalance causes the pillars to snap when earthquake strikes," he said.

The professor of University of Roorkee also pointed out that in many buildings the concrete columns were rectangular in shape and were pointing in one direction.

"In one building 27 columns pointed towards one way while only 6 were placed perpendicular to them. Earthquake comes in waves and from different directions so equal number of the beams should be pointing in different directions for safety of any building in a seismic zone," Dr Arya pointed out.

A team of structural and civil engineers who went around the city and to Bhuj to study the nature of damage to different buildings found that "only those which have not complied to the building norms prescribed for seismic zones have crumbled. The others have escaped with minor cracks".

Dr Arya said, "It is of utmost importance that the local civil and structural engineers as the architects, contractors and even the masons should understand how to go about constructing buildings in an area which falls under zone five or even three."

He warned, "At a number of sites that I visited repair work had begun but with scarce attention to details. It would be prudent for the builders and engineers employed for the task of repair of damaged buildings should consult experts before making any major changes which could prove to be useless when and if disaster strikes again."

Postal department opens mobile counters Thursday, February 8, 2001

VADODARA: With the demand for postal services, especially money orders and postal savings bank high in the earthquake affected areas of Rajkot, Surendranagar and Kutch, the postal department has started mobile post offices in all areas where post office buildings have been destroyed.

In addition to putting into service the postal mobile vans, it has also set up postal tents at all the affected areas. A special extension counter for processing the forms of the postal life insurance claims has also been started in Bhuj.

Anurag Priyadarshi an official of the control room at the Ahmedabad chief post master general office said that the earthquake has damaged most of the 68 postal offices in Kutch and three buildings had to be shifted in Ahmedabad too. Other areas too have suffered extensive damage. He said that postal tents have come up in almost all of these areas baring Bhachau and Samkhiyana village.

"An extension counter of the postal life insurance has been set up at Bhuj for undertaking speedy processing of application forms for insurance claims. We are also trying to normalise our postal savings bank network in all the villages in these areas. Our network of savings bank in all of these regions is very high and the demand for this service is also high as people are now in need for money," he said.

Hybrid mail service which combines the electronic and traditional mail service is also being provided free of charge to people in all the earthquake affected areas.

Giving more information about the badly affected earthquake areas Vadodara circle, Post Mater General (PMG) D K Budki said that alternative arrangements have been made to cater to the demand for postal services in most of these areas with help of mobile postal vans.

"The postal services in these areas would be catered to by mobile postal vehicles. These vehicles would travel to all the villages and towns of the earthquake affected areas including the remote areas," he said. According to him, baring the postal savings bank services, all other 'Over the Counter' services have been started in remote villages through these mobile vans.

Priyadarshi said that mobile vans too are being sent to interior villages with facility to receive and send postal services. According to him all postal records of savings bank accounts have been salvaged from the debris and none of the important records would be allowed to get lost.

However, an official source said that normalisation of services would take some time as many people are displaced in these areas. In some interior villages crane shave not reached yet. "We have started services in all of the affected areas. In many places residents are dead or missing. In such cases delivery of letters would be difficult. All registered and speed post letters would be retained by the postal department if the postal authorities are unable to find the person it is addressed to," he said.

According to the postal department officials the demand for postal services in the earthquake-affected areas is very high. These areas have a large number of small and large industrial units as well migrant workers from Northern and Southern states, therefore postal services in this region are pressurised throughout the year even under normal circumstances.

According to Budki the use of mobile postal services was common especially in olden days when network between villages was not as advanced as it is today. "Earlier camels were used in Rajasthan to deliver and receive mail. In J-K shikaras or house boats were used while bicycles were used in several other rural areas," he informed.

* Mobile postal services started in earthquake-affected areas.

* Increase in demand for money orders and postal savings bank account use in these areas

* More than 68 postal offices in Bhuj alone are destroyed

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