India-born expert leads Swiss rescue team. Tuesday, January 30, 2001
AHMEDABAD: When Swiss rescue worker Karvin Ahuja came vacationing to Goa earlier this year, little did he know he would soon be returning to India in an official capacity as a rescue worker in the earthquake-ravaged Gujarat.
"I've been to India several times and I was in Goa and Chennai three weeks ago for a holiday but I never thought I would have to return under these circumstances," said the 29-year-old Ahuja.
On Sunday, Ahuja was at the head of a Swiss quick reaction team sifting through the rubble of a building in the posh Parimal Garden area in the heart of Ahmedabad that collapsed in Friday's killer quake.
"We have been going to all the areas in the city where buildings have collapsed to see if there are any survivors trapped in the debris. We rescued two people this morning, trapped for more than 36 hours," said Ahuja, whose father is an engineer from Mumbai and his mother Swiss. He lives in Switzerland.
Friday's quake, which measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, flattened nearly
100 buildings in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat and home to
nearly four million people. Around 500 people are feared dead in the city, with most of them trapped in the debris of collapsed buildings.
The temblor had its epicenter near Bhuj, some 420 km from Ahmedabad, and
spread across the subcontinent.
Clad in bright orange overalls and aided by nine specially trained Sniffer
dogs, the men and women of the 48-strong Swiss team have fanned out all over the city, working with state police in rescue operations.
The Swiss team, made up of military personnel and civilian experts, arrived in Ahmedabad Sunday, even as more quick reaction teams from Britain, Turkey, Germany and Russia were expected in the city.
Soon after their arrival, the team extricated a woman and a child from the devastated apartment block. Like the Swiss team, the other disaster
management teams from Germany and Britain are equipped with sophisticated
thermal imaging equipment and sound detection devices that will help them
locate people buried deep under piles of debris.
"Some members of our team have already moved out to Bhuj and we will join
them here as soon as we can," said the six-feet-tall Ahuja, who was a member
of Swiss teams that participated in relief operations in earthquake-affected
areas of Turkey and Taiwan in 1999.
"The thing that is so hard to accept in earthquake-affected areas is the suffering. We get out the survivors and the bodies but it's the people who have to continue with their lives even as they rebuild their homes and cope with their losses," Ahuja added.
Expressing surprise at the fact that some buildings here had collapsed while
others remained almost unharmed by the tremors, Ahuja said, "One would assume there was something wrong with the construction of the buildings that collapsed. We encountered something similar in the quake-affected areas of
Turkey (as in Gujarat), the ground was dry and hard but the building that
collapsed were high rise structures that were not properly constructed."
"In Taiwan, however, the ground was soggy but the buildings were well-made.
They just sank into the ground," he said.
The rescue workers, both Indian and those coming from abroad, have a tough job on their hands. Survivors were being pulled out of collapsed buildings till late Sunday, including four members of a family living in the Maninagar area who were pulled out of the ruins of a high-rise almost 48 hours after the quake.
There was a town named Morbi........................... Tuesday, January 30, 2001
This was a small and beautiful town rich in history.
Until disaster struck on the morning of January 26, people looked upon Morvi's splendid architecture, a legacy of the royal family, with pride.
Much of it is now in ruins. The town has lost its historical moorings, besides at least 176 human lives.
Almost 10 per cent of Morvi's buildings have been razed. The famous Darbargarh Palace, Mani Mandir and Green Chowk have suffered substantial damage.
Adding to the human suffering, the devastation caused to these historical monuments has hurt the people who were sentimentally attached to them.
According to Tehsildar H M Jadeja, 60 to 70 per cent of the buildings in the rural areas surrounding Morvi have been damaged badly. Food packets, blankets and medicines have been coming in, but the supply is still far short of demand, he told the United News of India.
The unofficial toll varies from 400 to 500 and about 2,000 injured. Government offices began functioning on Monday in the open as people remained too scared to occupy buildings. Only the municipality building was filled, turned into a control room for the relief operations.
Much of the Darbargarh Palace, seat of Morvi's last ruler Maharaja Thakore Mahendrasinhji Ladhiraji Sahib Bahadur, was destroyed. The king died in 1957 and the royal family now lives in Bombay.
Built with gold-coloured stones, the palace's intricately carved pillars have come down and so also the exquisite domes and arches.
Rows of houses near the palace have collapsed. Locals say 25 bodies were extricated from one building right across the palace. Bulldozers and dumpers were busy clearing the debris as a sleepy town engaged directly or indirectly in the clock industry or making glazed tiles became rubble.
Mani Mandir, a marvellous stone complex built in 1935 as a mark of worship and love, with delicate carvings and a well-planned garden, has been extensively damaged. Morvi also has the samadhi (mausoleum) of Nanasaheb, last Peshwa of the Marathas and a leader of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.
There has been some damage to the Nehru Gate too, which when it was built was called Nagar Darwaja. It was an exotic and architecturally majestic gate with a clock on it depicting elegance and led to the well-planned historic market of Morvi.
Chances of more survivors in Bhuj `bleak' Tuesday, January 30, 2001
BHUJ: The international rescue teams operating in the worst-hit Bhuj and adjoining areas on Monday termed "bleak" the chances of survival of those still trapped under the debris of buildings in the devastating earthquake.
"We are running late. The victims are trapped for last three days under fallen structures without water, food and air," Kevin Kelly of UK Fire Services told PTI at their makeshift camp here.
"As per our past experience in dealing with natural calamities, the chances of survival are 80 per cent to start with, but at the end of third day they have been reduced to a mere 24 per cent," Kelly said.
The three international rescue teams from UK, Germany and Switzerland are coordinating with the district administration, Army and police in their rescue and relief operations in old Bhuj city where the death toll is rising every hour, Mike Thomas, chief of the International Rescue Corps, UK, said.
"Since our arrival yesterday, we have saved four persons from under the debris and they include a woman and a child. The hope for more survivors is still on," German team leader P Sluck said.
He also said the team has flown down sniffer dogs to locate survivors.
When asked how long would they carry on the rescue work, Kelly said they would continue till the last of the survivors was removed from under the debris.
Gujarat pleads for rescue equipment Tuesday, January 30, 2001
The toll in the killer earthquake in Gujarat was on Monday reported to be somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. This figure was likely to skyrocket, with survival chances appearing slim for nearly 100,000 people feared to be trapped in debris at Bhuj, Anjar, Rapar, Bhachchau (all in Kutch district), Ahmedabad, Surendranagar, Morbi and other places.
Although there still was no clear picture about the approximate toll, nearly 7,000 bodies have so far been extricated from the rubble by rescue teams, even as removal of bodies in the worst-hit areas of Kutch district -- Bhachchau, Anjar and Rapar -- was yet to begin in right earnest.
With a more coherent picture available in Gujarat three days after the devastating earthquake, the state government has said it was in urgent need of self contained medical teams and kitchens and heavy equipment for cutting through the debris.
Even as the casualty figure rose, the Centre was not sure of how many people could be buried in the debris. The Gujarat government's figures, based on the number of bodies counted, were 6287 dead and 15,481 injured, Agriculture Secretary Bhaskar Barua told newspersons in New Delhi after Sunday's meeting of the Crisis Management Group.
''It's time for medium and long-term planning for reconstruction and restoration. The state and central governments and various organisations are coming forward in the reconstruction...things are looking better from the management point of view," Barua said.
Barua said the state government, having managed the initial aspect of the tragedy, now knew its requirements.
Cranes, pay loaders, fork lifts and equipment for cutting concrete slabs were urgently needed. These could be sent to Kandla port for onward despatch. While a lot of these had reached Gujarat, much more were needed.
Asked whether the Gujarat government had made a request for Rs 5 billion in assistance, Mr Barua said he was not aware of it but there would be need for funds for reconstruction.
He said two officials of his ministry were going to Bhuj on Tuesday to ensure coordination among the various agencies providing relief. He did not know whether rural areas were being neglected.
The railways, with train service now going beyond Gandhidham, would be able to move a lot of labour from outside the state for clearing the debris.
Barua said the good news was that trains were going to Kukuma, 10 km short of Bhuj, and movement of relief material would be much easier and the burden on the air-lift would be shared. Fourteen special trains from different parts were run. A 'water special' train went up to Naliya and another was being loaded at Sabarmati.
Another piece of welcome news was that power supply was more or less restored at Bhuj, and vital installations like hospitals now had electricity.
The Delhi fire service has sent three gas cutters and 22 personnel for relief work and similar help in clearing the debris was pouring in from other states. Maharashtra had pitched in with 7500 tonnes of firewood while Punjab had despatched 100,000 blankets and set up food 'langars'. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Predsh had also expressed keenness to send equipment.
Barua said the state needed self-contained teams to set up medical camps and free kitchens. With more than 1,000 doctors from outside the state working on the ground, there were more than adequate doctors but medical teams with paramedics and nurses and mobile X-ray machines and mobile operation theatres would be welcome.
If it was feasible for groups to set up tent cities that too would be welcome, the Gujarat government has indicated. Another urgent requirement in the state was clothes, Barua said.
He said 5563 rescue personnel had fanned out and another 8,000 army personnel would be deployed within 24 hours. More field ambulances were being sent.
While 92,000 blankets had already been distributed, another 57,000 were in the pipeline. Tents had gone up to 8210 and another 2450 were on the move.
PM numbed by Bhuj's swathe of destruction Tuesday, January 30, 2001
Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, accompanied by senior Cabinet ministers and top civil officials, conducted an aerial survey of Bhuj and Kutch region Monday.
During his aerial survey, a grim-looking prime minister on board the military MI-8 helicopter said, ''The death toll is increasing.''
Anjar wore a devastated look with houses within a radius of five km of the township completely damaged.
After the 75-minute aerial survey, the prime minister embarked on a 55-km road journey from Kandla to Anjar where debris from collapsed buildings lay on both sides of the road.
Nearly 100,000 people were feared to be still trapped in the debris at Bhuj, Anjar, Rapar, Bachchau (all in Kutch district), Ahmedabad, Surendranagar, Morbi and other places.
With a clear picture on the death toll still to emerge, nearly 7,000 bodies have been extricated from the rubble so far. However, the worst-hit areas like Bhachchau, Anjar and Rapar were yet to begin in right earnest, the toll could go up to 30,000, those involved in the operations apprehend.
Adding to the difficulties in the death toll estimates was the fact that people were taking away the bodies for funeral rites by themselves, surpassing the official channels.
Monday's tremors, measuring between 3.5 and 4.6 on the Richter Scale, shook the Bhuj area and the last one was recorded a little after 0800 hours, the Indian Meteorological Department said in New Delhi.
The IMD said since the major earthquake on January 26, it has recorded 88 moderate aftershocks in the area.
Meanwhile, the Army, with its massive 'Operation Sahayata' for relief and rescue, the Air Force, the Navy and various private, voluntary, national and international organisations were continuing the work in the quake-hit areas. At Kandla port, two navy ships have been converted into hospitals.
Nearly 12,000 injured were being treated in various private or government hospitals, dispensaries and even make shift arrangements like tents, an official said.
In Kutch district, thousands of casual workers from Rajasthan, Orissa and other states employed in salt farms died in the quake. The authorities have begun to bury the unclaimed bodies.
Although authorities in Bhuj had stated that the death toll in Bhuj alone could be nearly 30,000, state government officials were cautious. They said the Latur quake toll, earlier stated to be around 40,000 was later scaled down to about 12,000.