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January 31, 2001 - January 31, 2001

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.

Army seals off Anjaar, all 35,000 residents feared dead Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The military has cordoned off the town of Anjaar, where there's no living being anywhere in sight.

A taluka official said the extreme step has been taken as the entire town with population of 35,000 has been reduced to mounds of rubble. About 1000 bodies have been recovered so far, and a mass funeral is expected to be conducted soon.

Meanwhile, electricity and communication lines are being partially restored in the town which was near the epicentre of the killer quake on Republic Day.

After five days of living in dread, Bhuj and the adjoining New Anjaar town came out of darkness late on Tuesday night with streets and some houses getting power around 10 pm.

Bhuj's main Bhanushali telephone exchange succeeded in restoring a few important lines like those to the district collector, makeshift hospitals and Kutch Mitra, the town's only newspaper office.

The people, after spending four nights in makeshift shelters and tents, dared to venture indoors but many of them chose to sleep in the tents.

Meanwhile, rescue and relief operations are continuing in other areas of Kutch like Bachchau, Rapar, Mandavi, Apdasa, Samakhyari, Gandhidham and Kandla port.

The chances of retrieving anybody alive were fast diminishing, taluka officials have said.

More Aftershocks Recorded in Bhuj. Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Aftershocks measuring between 3.3 and 4.7 on the Richter Scale continued to rock the quake-ravaged Bhuj area of Gujarat through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the Indian Meteorological Department said in New Delhi.

A total of 110 aftershocks measuring more than 3.0 on the Richter Scale have been recorded in a 50 to 100 km radius of Bhuj since the January 26 earthquake.

The IMD recorded five aftershocks in Bhuj since Tuesday night measuring 3.3 at 2304 hrs, 4.7 at 2350 hrs, 3.7 at 0259 hrs, 4.3 at 0726 hrs and 3.6 at 0800 hrs.

Faith keeps her alive for 3 days under debris Wednesday, January 31, 2001

BHUJ: Kusumben Myacha lay for three days pinned under a massive chunk of cement, without food or water, drifting in and out of sleep. She prayed to gods to be saved.

No one heard her screams until the stillness of the second night. At daybreak Sunday, rescuers began a frantic race to dig her out from under the rubble of the once seven-storey apartment building.

Myacha, a 40-year-old mother of two, was pulled free as night fell. People wept as they saw her emerge. She had survived longer buried than anyone so far from Friday's devastating earthquake.

But the tales of dramatic rescues have become fewer as hopes faded Monday of finding any more people alive after three cold nights. By official count, the 7.9 magnitude quake had killed 6,287 people in the industrial state of Gujarat, and the state's chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, said the toll could go as high as 20,000.

"Hope of finding survivors is dwindling hour by hour, but as long as there is hope, we won't give up, said Joachim Ahrens, spokesman for a Swiss government agency responsible for a rescue team in Bhuj. "The hopes are dwindling but they are not yet dead."

He said the Swiss team rescued a seventh survivor from the debris on Monday.

Doctors performed abdominal surgery on a 4-year-old child pulled from the rubble on Monday as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee walked past the operating room set up in an open tent in Bhuj.

"I'm here to express my solidarity with the people," Vajpayee said. "They are not alone in this. There are plans being drafted for rehabilitation and reconstruction of this area."

Residents in Bhuj bemoaned the lack of equipment that would have allowed round-the-clock rescue. "They work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. only. This is emergency duty. They should work round the clock," said Pradeep Sheth, 46, who was rescued from under the rubble after seven hours. His wife, mother and two daughters were still trapped in the debris.

"Look at the soldiers. They have no equipment, no cutter. How will they clear the slabs? With their bare hands?" said Sheth, a printer. "There are live people trapped inside. We can hear their sounds."

Survivors huddled in open fields, wrapped in blankets. Besides their homes, families have lost their possessions and savings. Some people organized free kitchens, cooking rice, vegetables and lentils in huge vats.

"We have only ourselves to turn to," said Ramiklal Jaisa, 72. He and 5,000 others have been camping in an open field since Friday.

Myacha's rescue from under the Gokul Towers on Sunday evening heartened searchers, who have been losing hope.

She wasn't even the person rescuers were looking for. They originally thought the sounds under the concrete came from her neighbour, Meeraben.

"Can you hear me? Meeraben, are you there?" called an Army rescue worker, bending low to an 8-inch opening in the debris.

After a pause, a faint voice responded. It was Myacha's.

After she identified herself, a ripple ran through the crowd.

"Kusumben is alive ... Kusumben is alive!" shouted an unidentified young girl pushing through the crowd. With tears running town her cheeks she stood near the rescue team as they worked steadily, pulling the concrete and metal slabs with their bare hands.

Lying on a bed in a makeshift hospital on Monday, Myacha said she was in the bedroom of her first floor apartment when the quake struck, and her husband was out in the courtyard. Their children were in the living room and were able to flee before the building collapsed.

A cement column fell next to her, and a slab of concrete on top of it. Myacha was trapped in the narrow space formed by the two pieces of masonry.

"When the quake started I thought I was dead," she said. When awake, she recited verses from Hanuman Chalisa.

Relief operations take back seat in Bhuj Wednesday, January 31, 2001

BHUJ: Lauritzsen Holvar of Norway is the International Red Cross Society's director for the Gujarat operations. "We are launching the biggest relief and rescue ever undertaken by us but I don't know where to start. There is no one to talk to me, tell me where to start," he says. It has been six hours since he reached Bhuj and no official has met him. Holvar's predicament reflects the mess that the government's relief machinery in Kutch is.

"We plan to fly in planeloads of relief and rescue material, medicines, 1.5 lakh blankets, two hospitals that can perform all major surgeries and other support worth millions of dollars to start with. But if these people don't talk to me I will be forced to cancel it,'' he says.

Holvar is not the only foreign relief worker who is all at sea in Kutch. It is 3.30 pm on Monday and a team of 35 experts from Turkey pitches tents in a lawn opposite the district collectorate and settles down for a meal. These men in orange jumpers have had a long grind since they landed at 6 am in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

But rescue is last on the mind of the authorities controlling Operation Salvage in Bhuj. Says Mumtaz Darzdiani of the Turkish team: "The priority should be to find and rescue all those trapped and are still alive...But we are still waiting for some official support so that we can begin work."

Even by 4 pm on Monday, there was no one to coordinate anything in Bhuj since everyone in the administration was geared for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit.

Even the deputy commissioner of police in the control room, the man in charge of communications, was attending to VIPs who were visiting the injured in the military hospital.

The Lincolnshire Fire Brigade from England could not get transport to reach places where there were reports of trapped people calling for help. A Swiss team, which flew to Bhuj from Ahmedabad, lost two hours as it was misguided by travel agents.

The mess which the massive relief operation has turned into can be gauged as one enters Bhuj. Hundreds of people start chasing vehicles from Madhapar right down to the city centre - a distance of 4 km - seeking food, clothes, medicine, milk, anything that is thrown at them.

The roads are chockful of people, begging, howling and even cursing. With a handful of traffic policemen deployed for clearing the road, the search and rescue teams with their machinery can barely move.

Those who are still breathing beneath tonnes of debris are losing their battle. Columns after columns of heavy engineering equipment are forced to wait on the highways to get into the city.

Bhuj has become one big tamasha for curious people from all over the state who have come to see what an earthquake looks like.

Trucks carrying food, medicines, clothes compete with gigantic cranes, bulldozers. And not finding any takers for the relief material, all this is being dumped on the roadside.

This site is dedicated to our friend Younus M, who passed away on 28th Sept 00, and left on us an indelible memories !
- Team

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