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February 1, 2001 - February 2, 2001

Police probe homicide charges against builders Friday, February 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat police said on Friday they were investigating possible charges of culpable homicide against builders, architects and town planners.

Ahmedabad police chief P C Ande said multiple complaints had been filed by residents of six multi-storey buildings that collapsed in last week's devastating quake.

Pande said possible charges arising out of these complaints included culpable homicide, defrauding people, criminal conspiracy and using substandard materials.

Cases have been registered against six named constructors as well as architects and government planners. "It is still too early to carry out arrests," Pande said.

"We are only registering offences so investigations can begin. We have to get technical opinions regarding the quality of the materials used and the type of construction that has been carried out," he said.

One of the complaints was filed by Dahyabhai Patel, a resident of the city's Surabhi Apartment complex, which was levelled by the January 26 quakeTwenty-six people inside the Surabhi complex were killed.

A total of 13 buildings were totally destroyed in the quake, while 40 partially collapsed and more than 800 were badly cracked.

None of the six buildings figuring in the police complaints were more than three years old. Pande brushed aside concerns that the named suspects might try to flee the state. "You cannot run away from two things: death and the law," he said.

"Wherever they go, we will catch up with them, so we are not bothered about that."

Thousands of homes and buildings collapsed across Gujarat when the prosperous western state was hit by the January 26 quakes.

Estimates of the state-wide death toll have ranged from 25,000 to as high as 100,000.

Experts have said the level of devastation had been exaggerated by shoddy construction and unscrupulous builders and planners who ignored safety guidelines to cut costs. Gujarat lies in a known seismic zone.

Sharad Yadav wants priority in unloading relief material Friday, February 2, 2001

BARODA: Union civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav has issued instructions for unloading relief materials and servicing aircraft, carrying relief materials to quake-hit Ahmedabad in Gujarat, free of cost and as early as possible.

Yadav said Thursday that he had visited Ahmedabad airport on Wednesday along with the chairman and secretary of Airports Authority of India to verify the facts about delay in unloading relief materials coming from various countries. "During my visit, I have issued these instructions," he added.

So far 27 additional flights of Indian Airlines from various parts of the country have reached Ahmedabad, carrying relief materials for earthquake victims. 28 flights from various countries, that have arrived carrying relief materials, have been unloaded, Yadav said.

Airports Authority of India has also assured all help from Mumbai regarding manpower and machine.

Yadav said he had also visited Kandla airport and made necessary arrangement for unloading relief materials coming from different countries.

Old Bhuj, Anjaar cordoned off Friday, February 2, 2001

The old Bhuj city and Anjaar town in quake-hit Gujarat have been cordoned off by the army for security reasons even as the state government identified 492 villages in Kutch district as badly affected.
As many as 150 of the 492 villages were 'very seriously hit' in Kutch district which has a total of 630 villages, Agriculture Secretary Bhaskar Baruah told reporters in New Delhi after the Crisis Management Group reviewed the quake situation.

The state government has informed the Centre that the official death toll is 14,240 while the number of injured has crossed 62,000.

However, there is no record so far of the number of people missing or buried under the debris.

Baruah said since the old Bhuj city had several jewellery shops, army had cordoned off the area to prevent looting. "Similar was the case with Anjaar town," he said.

A 320-bed hospital has been made operational by the International Red Cross in Bhuj with equipment and medical personnel.

As many 58 flights from foreign countries have landed with relief material and personnel, Baruah said.

While 10,650 surgeries have been performed after the earthquake, there have been 1600 amputations and another 1600 major surgeries. Nearly 1900 medical personnel have fanned out in the state while a team of psychiatrists has been lined up for trauma treatment, Baruah said.

There have been no reports of spread of epidemics in the state, he said.

Referring to the power situation, he said supply has been restored in almost all vital facilities while in Bhuj and Anjaar it has been restored partially.

GI sheets and plastic sheets have reached the affected areas by land and air while a special train has left Delhi carrying GI sheets and earth-moving equipment.

The telecommunication services at Bhuj, Anjaar and Gandhidham are now available while mobile communication has also been partially restored.

Surajbari bridge linking Bhuj has been repaired and was now ready to carry heavy load transport at regulated speed.

Asked why foreign teams were leaving Gujarat, Baruah said, "They have not told us. The presumption is that they feel their work is over."

At least 30 teams of state government employees have fanned out to interior areas to assess the damage and the toll and co-ordinate rescue and relief operations, he said.

The Indian Airforce has carried out 366 sorties, including those by IL-76, AN-32 aircraft and Dorniers, he said. The army has moved in over 22,500 troops for the operations, especially in the most-affected areas of Bhuj and Kutch as seven regiments of engineers, mobile hospitals and surgical teams have started providing succour to the victims.

Forty-five battalions of police personnel who were deployed for security are now also involved in relief work.

As many as 1500 cadets of the NCC are also assisting in the operations and two naval ships at Kandla Port have been converted into makeshift hospitals.

Ahmedabad panics on astrologer's prediction Thursday, February 1, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Rumours are making matters worse for a city tense and tired. People here panicked Thursday on a local astrologer's prediction that a lethal planetary alignment that caused the January 26 quake would take place on Saturday.

A Gujarati newspaper, Aajkaal, had on January 13 published the prediction of an astrologer that the earth would shake in Gujarat on January 26, eight days before the planets aligned in a way that would cause a series of natural calamities all over the world till August this year.

News of the prediction spread like wildfire in Ahmedabad, where life went into a tailspin. People who had just begun settling down to routine life after five days of living in extreme fear began to leave town again on Thursday morning.

The astrologer, Jai Prakash Madhak, had said in the newspaper that a confluence of Mars entering Scorpio along with Pluto and opposing Saturn on February 3 would makes its presence felt first on January 26 and then continue to affect the world, resulting in a series of earthquakes till 10 April.

He also predicted a number of train accidents between January and August this year.

What added fuel to the fire was the revelation that Madhak had predicted the tremors in Bhavnagar last year, and some as far back as November 1994 in Kerala.

There have been rumours galore in the city with people vacating buildings in a trice at the mere mention of a tremor. On Wednesday morning a report from Rajkot that a loud blast had been heard created panic. People said a similar blast had been heard in Rajkot before the big quake. It later turned out to be a routine detonation. The slightest vibration shakes up the city, which is out on the roads in the nights to avoid another catastrophe.

Foreign rescue teams begin leaving Bhuj Thursday, February 1, 2001

BHUJ: International rescue teams packed to leave this devastated town on Thursday and reports of people being found alive suddenly ceased five days after the earthquake ravaged Gujarat.

The 67-member British search and rescue squad left on Thursday. Turkish and Japanese crews who arrived in the wake of Friday's 7.7-magnitude quake have also gone.

Officials in charge of the British contingent say it is time to draw a line under rescue operations and concentrate on bringing relief to the survivors. Rescuers are exhausted after days of tunnelling into rubble in the hope of finding living victims - and, more often, uncovering only bodies.

At least five people were pulled alive from the rubble in three towns on Wednesday, but there were no such reports Thursday.

The rescuers leave with regrets about those they could not save.

"There has to be a cutoff point, and it's hard to say where it is," said John Miller, 48, from Lane End, Buckinghamshire. "We know it's not a month, but is it a week, or 10 days? At a certain point you have to shut down and detach."

In the August 17, 1999 earthquake in Turkey, Ismail Cimen, a 4-year-old boy, was the last person found alive after surviving six days without food or water under the rubble.

Rescue workers concede there are likely still a few people trapped alive under ruined buildings, but say they have exhausted their resources.

"It's not an easy decision," said James Brown, the British search and rescue coordinator in Bhuj. "When the team gets home they'll see pictures on TV of people being brought out alive. The guys have big hearts, they'd carry on forever, but the body can only take so much.

"It is time to move on to relief. If we'd stayed a couple more days we'd rescue one or two more people. Now we'll move into relief and save thousands of lives."

For the longer term relief effort, the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance sent a team of seven people to Bhuj on Thursday. They came with three planes carrying four water treatment tankers, each one enough for a village. There were also four truckloads of tarpaulins and blankets. The US team plans to be on the ground for up to three weeks, said its leader, William S. Berger.

The British rapid-response rescue team left England on a Royal Air Force plane on Friday night and was at work 15 minutes after arriving in Bhuj on Sunday morning. Since then, British rescuers and British-funded Russian teams have dug 23 people out alive.

"It doesn't sound a lot, but it is an absolutely brilliant effort," said Miller. "Sometimes you don't find anyone at all."

Efforts to coordinate the work of the international teams, however, have been beset by disorganisation. In the chaotic days after the disaster, rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of vehicles, translators and communications equipment.

Teams are continuing to arrive - including a French sniffer-dog squad that reached Bhuj on Wednesday - as the others were preparing to pull out.

"Over the last few days our camp has been up and running really well," said Mike Thomas, team leader for the British effort. "But we still didn't know where the Germans were.

"We'd like to have seen relief rescue teams coming in. In the end, you have to balance the condition of the team and the chances of success against the resources available."

Mukesh Kapila, head of humanitarian aid for Britain's Department for International Development, also was critical of the international effort Thursday.

"Unless the international community tries to act together in a disciplined manner, they could become part of the problem, because resources will not go where they are needed," he said during a trip to Bhuj to oversee the allocation of Britain's 10-million-pound ($15 million) aid package.

"The important thing is to make sure assistance reaches those who need it most, rather than just spraying it around."

While praising all the private and government agencies for getting aid to the area quickly, Ken Maclean, the west India representative for Catholic Relief Services of Baltimore, Maryland, said, "It's beginning to clog up the system, because there is no coordination. In some cases you have people just throwing stuff off of trucks. And that is not a good way to distribute relief supplies."

The departing rescuers leave Bhuj with mixed emotions.

"In a way I'm sad to go," said Barry Sharland, a 45-year-old firefighter from Lincolnshire in the English Midlands. "The people have been wonderful and amazingly generous.

"There have been some heart-rending moments," he said. "There was a lady who wanted us to look for her 12-year-old son. One wall of her apartment was still standing, and her son's photograph was still hanging on the wall. The first person we found was her son. It was obvious he'd been killed almost instantly. That was pretty hard to take."

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