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January 31, 2001 - February 1, 2001

They survived on tomatoes and water for five days Thursday, February 1, 2001

A bottle of water and a few tomatoes is all that kept a young couple and their six-year-old daughter going till they were miraculously brought alive from the rubble of their house in Gandhidham Tuesday after more than 100 hours under the debris.

40-year-old Chitra, her husband Silveira Chelappan and their daughter were in the kitchen of their house when the building collapsed. They found a safe haven in a cavity and survived the ordeal on a bottle of water and some tomatoes before they were rescued on the fifth day.

Chitra, the first to be taken out, said from her hospital bed, "We survived by giving solace to each other in the darkness and sharing water and the tomatoes that we had."

Red Cross puts toll at 50,000 Thursday, February 1, 2001

The Red Cross Wednesday said that the number of deaths in the Gujarat earthquake tragedy could touch 50,000 but was unlikely to be 100,000 as apprehended by Defence Minister George Fernandes.

Bob McKerrow, Head, South Asian Regional Delegation of International Red Cross told the Breakfast News programme of Star News that from various inputs he believed that a figure of 50,000 dead was realistic. But he had difficulty in supporting the figure of 100,000, he added.

Lodai village - illness follows quake Wednesday, January 31, 2001

A doctor in lodai said on Wednesday that survivors made homeless by the disaster were beginning to fall ill.

"I fear this is due to contaminated water," Doctor R.K. Rajgaur told Reuters.

Rajgaur, who has worked in the village of Lodai for about 20 years, said five people had come down with diarrhoea on Tuesday and four others on Wednesday.

"All the four cases today were children below three years," he said.

Rajgaur was running a makeshift medical centre made up of just a few tables with no shelter from the blazing sun.

Alhough Indian authorities have rushed bleaching powder, chlorine tables and specialist medical teams to the western state of Gujarat to fight against any outbreak of disease, full rescue operations have yet to get underway in more remote areas.

Lodai, a town of about 5,000 people in the coastal marshlands of Kutch, is a typical example.

Villagers complained that although they were getting food, they had no water and no shelter.

"We get food but there is no water to drink. We have no shelter over our heads and it is very cold at night," said labourer Haji Abdullah.

All Lodai's houses were flattened by the earthquake, but villagers said they thought only about 30 people had died because the structures were mainly single-storey and most residents were outdoors when it hit.

"At first all of us thought that Pakistan had dropped a bomb so we all ran away and people were yelling 'bomb has fallen, bomb has fallen'," Pancha Bhai Arjan said.

"The village was covered in dust and we could not see anything for half an hour," he said.

At least 20,000 people died in India's worst disaster in half a century and officials say they fear the real death toll could be much higher.

Latest death toll: "??,000" Wednesday, January 31, 2001

One measure of the scale of the devastation wrought by gujarat's devastating earthquake has been the wildly fluctuating death tolls put out by the authorities and the media.

At the top end of the range is the stunning figure of 100,000 dead put out late Monday by Defence Minister George Fernandes, which marked a quantum leap from the previous high-end estimate of 20,000.

Since then, several cabinet colleagues, as well as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee have indirectly rapped Fernandes on the knuckles and stressed that, with so many bodies still buried, precise estimates were impossible.

In Gujarat itself, the state authorities have stuck by a figure of around 20,000, while adding that the final toll could be substantially higher.

The federal government, meanwhile has declined any speculation and only provides the number of bodies retrieved and identified -- a figure that currently stands at 7,162.

Foreign aid organisations have added their own estimates and comments.

"From various reports, 50,000 seems realistic. 100,000? I would have difficulty supporting that figure at the moment," said Bob McKerrow, regional delegation head of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

The media, which faithfully reported all the initial estimates -- while adding a few of its own -- has since grown more skeptical.

"100,000?," was the half page headline on the front of the Pioneer newspaper on Wednesday, following the Fernandes statement.

The India Express was even circumspect with one of its headlines: "Tremor Terror - ?0,000 dead."

Kutchi NGO estimates toll will exceed 1,25,000 Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The Kutch Vikas Trust, the biggest NGO operating in the region, estimates that at least 1.25 lakh people have died in Friday's earthquake.

Fr George Kunnath from the NGO said they were basing their projection on feedback from volunteers who have fanned out in all major towns of Kutch and a survey of some 30 villages in the region.

The total population of Kutch is 15 lakh, spread over 46,400 sq km. The five main towns here are Gandhidham, Bhuj, Anjaar, Mandavi and Mundir, and there are 966 villages in the area.

The NGO estimates that out of the 1.25 lakh population of Bhuj, at least 30,000 are dead. Bachchau, with a population of 25,000, has lost 20,000 people. In Anjaar, some 15,000 are feared to have died. In Rapar, 20,000 are feared dead. Gandhidham, with a population of 1.2 lakh, 30,000 are feared dead.

In villages, the NGO estimates that casualties could vary from 15 to 3000.

What this correspondent found was that all the relief work is concentrated in the main cities and towns, with little trickling down to the villages, where there is extensive devastation. In village after village, the demand is not food and water as much as for tents, bulldozers to clear the rubble and medicines. In villages and Rampur and Rambagh, the villagers have turned down food and water, pleading instead for equipment to clear the debris and medicines.

Sometimes, too much of help may not be such a good thing too. The entire Bhuj-Bachchau highway, for instance, is jam-packed with a long line of vehicles, of those fleeing the area as well as of relief workers - hindering easy flow.

At noon on Wednesday, the Indian Aircraft flew out the families of its men by special aircraft to New Delhi.

The airport itself, which was partially destroyed in the quake, sees about 50-60 civilian flights a day, and some 25-30 in the night-time. At normal times there are two civil flights a day apart from 30 plus fighter sorties.

The spurt in flights is thanks to the aid that is pouring in. A sorry commentary on the way things are can be had at the airport itself, where there are mounds of relief material piled up, lying there for want of a proper distribution channel.

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