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January 27, 2001 - January 27, 2001

No help for quake-hit town of Bachao Saturday, January 27, 2001

BACHAO: With barely a house left standing and funeral pyres starting to burn, life has literally been turned upside down for the quake-struck western Indian town of Bachao, whose name translates as "Help."

The scene in Bachao, a once prosperous country township of 42,000, was indicative of the widespread devastation wrought by Friday's massive earthquake in Gujarat.

Located around 100 km from the epicentre, nearly all of Bachao's 10,000 buildings were simply flattened by the quake into a tortured tangle of metal and concrete rubble.

"We could almost see the earthquake coming, as the houses seemed to topple one after the other in a moving wave," said local resident Rajjak Ali.

"It all happened incredibly quickly and within minutes everything was just ... well, flat," Ali said.

Six salt factories, each with attached hostels housing several hundred workers, were destroyed.

Town officials said they simply had no idea of the possible death toll, although it was clear that thousands of people were unaccounted for.

Dozens of makeshift funeral pyres testified to the regular retrieval of bodies from the ruins, although the scale of destruction was such that rescue workers could barely scratch the surface of the quake's aftermath.

The search for survivors was mostly being carried out by local residents equipped with any tools they could find to pries away the imploded blocks of concrete.

"We are still digging out bodies and God knows how many people will live to remember this nightmare," said Dilip Thakkar, gesturing hopelessly to an arm protruding from beneath a mound of rubble.

Frequent aftershocks, some of them of high-intensity, simply added to the anxiety of the traumatised residents who had no choice but to spend the night out in the open.

A small 20-bed hospital, full of patients and medical staff, was flattened, with little chance of finding any survivors.

The scene in Bachao was clearly being replicated throughout the region, with one official from the nearby township of Bondh saying 110 bodies had already been cremated.

Travelling along the road from Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad to Bachao was like driving through a war zone, with damaged bridges, gutted gas stations and trucks that had been overturned by the ferocity of the quake, which registered 6.9 on the Richter scale.

Vehicles had to drive around large fissures that had opened up on the road, and make way for convoys of water tankers and army trucks bringing relief supplies to Bhuj -- the town nearest the epicentre where reports put the death toll as high as 3,000.

More than 2400 bodies recovered so far and toll may cross 10,000-mark. Saturday, January 27, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The death toll from the powerful earthquake that rocked Gujarat on Friday could cross the 10,000-mark, although the bodies have not yet been pulled from debris, state government officials said here on Saturday. A high-ranking official at the state's emergency control room said 2,403 bodies have been recovered. Most of them - 1,450 - have been found in Bhuj, the town nearest the epicenter.

There are 10,000 people still missing in the rubble of the two of 150,000 people, and at least half of them are dead, said the official, who asked not to be identified by name.

Earlier in the day, state home minister Haren Pandya said at least 5000 people were killed in the state. "The death toll for the entire state would be a minimum of 5,000," Pandya told an agency here. "We still do not have precise figures for the number of dead," Pandya said, adding that communication links had yet to be restored to several regions.

Officials said Bhuj, nearest to the epicentre of the quake, alone accounted for 3,000 deaths, while 700 were killed in Ahmedabad. About 300 deaths were reported from other parts of the state.

According to Harsh K Gupta, director of the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in Hyderabad, the quake measured a shade under 8 on the Richter Scale. This was not only higher than the quake's intensity, which was initially put at 6.9, but made it one of the most powerful quakes to have struck the country. The figure was arrived at after collating figures of the intensity of the quake measured by other centres in the world.

Meteorological Department sources in Pune said the epicentre of the quake lay 20 km northeast of Bhuj in Gujarat. The quake was felt from Kashmir to Kanyakumari as well as Kolkata. It was also recorded in Sindh province of Pakistan and Nepal.

The deaths were mostly the result of building collapse. Most of the victims were women and children who were indoors when the quake struck. As a result of the quake, power and communication lines were snapped, roads caved in and railway property was damaged at several places in the state.

Army, Navy and paramilitary personnel joined the local authorities in rescue and relief operations. Medical teams have been rushed from neighbouring states, including Rajasthan as well as New Delhi, and the Centre is making all arrangements to provide assistance for relief and rescue operations.

In Bhuj, most of the people were victims of house collapse. Bhuj was completely cut off from the rest of the state as communication links snapped. The other badly affected districts were Rajkot, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Surat. Mehsana district, close to the state capital, Gandhinagar, was another badly affected city with Vadnagar and Visnagar being badly damaged. Around 70 buildings collapsed like a pack of cards in Ahmedabad, especially in the Maninagar, Satellite and Ambawadi areas. Maninagar in south Ahmedabad appeared to be the worst-hit with at least 15 high-rise buildings reported to have collapsed. Screams rent the air as people were caught unawares and their homes collapsed. Over 10 of these buildings caved in up to the second floor. There was a mass exodus from the cities as people fled to safer areas.

Ironically, the government machinery, which was busy with the Republic Day celebrations, took some time to come to the aid of the tragedy-affected people. An hour after the quake struck, police jeeps were seen patrolling but policemen appeared to be quite aghast at the devastating sites, compelling spectators to take over and spring to the rescue of those trapped in the debris. At some places, even as bulldozers arrived, they could not be pressed into service because of the precarious positioning of the buildings lest there be more damage. The legendary 15th century monument, the Shaking minarets, located in Gomtipur, are reported to have collapsed.

People were caught in a frenzy and became panic-stricken as cracks began to appear in the walls of the older structures and vessels rattled from the racks and fell on to the floor. January 26 being an auspicious wedding date, several marriage parties that were out with the bridegrooms and decorated processions were abandoned in haste. In Maninagar, in the Rudralaya apartment, 25 people were feared trapped in a four-storeyed building which collapsed. People who had come for a wedding were trapped in the building, but the bridegroom managed to escape.

The walled city area was also badly affected with many dilapidated buildings having collapsed and many others caving in. While bridges survived the catastrophe, the Nehru bridge and some other bridges developed cracks.

In Delhi people felt dizzy from the swaying. Residents of Mumbai rushed out and those in high-rise buildings held on to doorways as they watched their pictures and cupboards sway.

It was the same in Chennai and Pondicherry, further to the south, where people began fleeing in panic from a Republic Day parade until officials on loudspeakers calmed them.

Tremors were also felt in Vijayawada and surrounding areas. There was no report of any damage.

The quake hit just before the Republic Day parade in Delhi, where thousands of police and security personnel were on alert against a possible terrorist attack. No panic was reported at the parade, attended by top government and military leaders, and foreign guests, including Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

In Rajasthan, the quake damaged some portions of a historic fort and a haveli in Jaisalmer and caused cracks in walls in Jaipur. However, no casualty has been reported from anywhere in the state.

The back portion of historic Salam Singh Ki Haveli cracked and fell on the roof of a neighbouring house.

Two slabs of the upper portion of `Hawa Pol' inside the historic Golden Fort in Jaisalmer also fell on the ground, creating havoc among the people residing the colony inside the fort.

Police in Mumbai said the tremors were more intense in areas bordering the Arabian Sea.

The earthquake also shook eastern parts of India, with mild tremors being felt in and around Kolkata.

Millions of pilgrims sleeping in tents at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, felt the ground sway beneath them, but there was no panic.

In Pakistan, a child and an adult died when their two-storey home in Sindh city of Hyderabad collapsed from the early morning tremor, emergency rescue workers said. They were sifting through the rubble of the cement-block home searching for more people. It wasn't immediately clear whether other members of the family were missing.

Reports from Kathmandu said the tremors caused panic among residents in the Nepalese capital as they fled their homes, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

This is the eighth time that the country recorded tremors measuring eight or above on the Richter Scale in the past 182 years. The highest intensity of 8.7 was recorded on June 12, 1897 in the Shillong plateau in the north-east. The next biggest to strike was on August 15, 1950 measuring 8.5 on the Arunachal Pradesh-China border, followed by one on January 15, 1934 on the Bihar-Nepal border, measuring 8.3 on the Richter Scale and another measuring 8.1 on June 26, 1941 in the Andaman Islands. Two quakes measuring 8 were recorded on June 16, 1819 in the Kutch area of Gujarat and in Kangra in Himachal Pradesh on April 4, 1905.

Friday's quake was a result of tectonic activity along a line of weakness in the earth's crust passing through the region known as the Narmada Son Lineament (NSL), Gupta said. The NSL has been listed as one of the most seismically active zones in the Global Seismic Hazard Programme - a worldwide effort to delineate possible quake zones and to understand them, a programme coordinated by the NGRI.

Desperate search for survivors Saturday, January 27, 2001

Rescue workers in Gujarat were struggling on Saturday to reach thousands of people, including 30 school children, trapped by a massive earthquake in Ahmedabad.

More than 24 hours after the quake struck Gujarat, there was no let up in the desperate search for the survivors, with army personnel, emergency services and volunteers combing through the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings.

"The death toll for the entire state would be a minimum of 5,000," Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya said in the state capital, Ahmedabad.

India's worst quake for 50 years struck at 8:46 am (0316 GMT) on Friday with the epicentre located 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of the mediaeval Guajarati town of Bhuj.

"We still do not have precise figures for the number of dead," Pandya said, adding that communication links had yet to be restored to several regions.

The state police control room in Ahmedabad put the official state-wide toll at 2,300, with 14,000 injured, but added that the final figure would be significantly higher.

"This is just a figure for the number of bodies that have been identified," said sub-inspector Ramesh Chandra.

Gujarat has a population of around 42 million, of whom about 3.6 million live in Ahmedabad.

In the worst hit town, Bhuj, which has a population of around 150,000, estimates of the number of dead varied between 1,400 and 3,000.

In Ahmedabad, dawn was greeted with relief by rescue workers who had been operating under floodlights or often in pitch darkness.

"The rescue operation went on uninterrupted throughout the night," said the city's top civil official, K Srinivasan.

"Our main focus now is on some of the multistorey buildings which were destroyed and where many people are still believed to be trapped," Srinivasan said.

Special efforts were being made to reach 30 children believed trapped in a collapsed school building.

Distraught parents remained at the site throughout the night, as rescue workers continued the delicate task of removing the rubble without causing a further collapse.

With the emergency services stretched, much of the rescue work was being carried out by volunteers, who voiced frustration at the lack of equipment and back-up from the authorities.

"One fire engine came and went back saying they couldn't do anything," said one volunteer, Mihia Chopra.

"Even to get a gas cutter we had to run from one end of the town to another," Chopra said.

The quake hit on India's Republic Day, a national holiday, so many people who would normally have left for work were instead at home.

Outside Ahmedabad, the destruction was widespread, and officials said they feared many villages near the epicentre had been completely flattened.

Gujarat is in an earthquake prone zone, but cost-cutting means that buildings are rarely structured to withstand quakes.

The last major earthquake to hit India was in March 1999. Measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, it killed 100 people in the Himalayan foothills.

Friday's temblor was the largest since a quake registering 8.5 struck the northeastern state of Assam in 1950, killing 532 people.

188 after-shocks recorded so far Saturday, January 27, 2001

MUMBAI: At least 188 after-shocks, 15 above the magnitude of 5 on the Richter scale, were recorded till 9 am on Saturday, almost 24 hours after Friday's earthquake, by the seismology department of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).

So far, the biggest after-shock, recorded at around 1 pm on Friday, measured 5.6 on the Richter scale, head of the department, Dr G J Nair said here.

Nair said analysis of the pattern of the earthquake showed that "It is oscillating in nature and is still continuing." As a result, more tremors are expected to affect the region, he said.

About the nuclear installations in Gujarat and Rajasthan, Nair said, "They are safe and the quake magnitude has fallen below the design parameters."

He said the centre has to immediately deploy direct satellite seismic communication facility and seismic satellite platforms all around the earthquake-affected region to continuously monitor the stability/instability of the earth.

The meteorological department should start using Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to update the interferometry observations and differential elevation mapping by using satellite pictures, so that the disaster management system could be made more efficient, Nair said.

The Gujarat administrators should immediately start using all data available on the website, www.USGS.gov, to render help to the earthquake-affected people, he added. (PTI)

Over 400 children lie buried under school Saturday, January 27, 2001

BHUJ: Nearly 400 children, who had assembled for a school function in Bhuj in Gujarat were feared trapped under rubble after the major earthquake, officials said on Saturday.

P.P. Afjha, inspector general of Bhuj Police, told AFP the children had come to school to celebrate the Republic Day on Friday when the earthquake triggered the collapse of the school building.

"All the school children along with their teachers are buried under the rubble of the school building," said Afjha. (AFP)

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