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January 30, 2001 - January 30, 2001

Quake toll may cross 60,000 Tuesday, January 30, 2001

BHUJ/AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat government and its agencies may have got it all wrong. Friday's earthquake is now known to have caused a much wider devastation than what was hitherto believed. As reports of the trail of death left by nature's fury in the towns and villages of Kutch continue to trickle in, there are definite indications that the toll could go up to 60,000 or more. But the government is still not revising its estimates beyond the 20,000-figure given out by Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel on Sunday.

The latest figure may sound stupendous as it comes four days after the quake. But with information gathered from eye-witnesses, the earlier figure appears grossly understated. With the survivors having fled the devastated villages out of fear and hunger, counting the dead is becoming an increasingly difficult task as bodies are still buried deep under mountains of debris.

In Bachau town, which had a population of nearly 35,000, none of the structures are intact. They have all crumbled, burying thousands. An official of the Bhuj Collectorate who travelled around the district over the last two days remarked, ``It is simply mind-boggling. All our estimates could go wrong!'' The officials are, however, not willing to go on record till there is confirmation of the number of bodies buried under the debris.

The exercise to lift the rubble hasn't even started in some villages because the survivors, if any, thought it better to run for their own lives than undertake the impossible task of removing the rubble without any equipment. In towns like Bachau, Anjar, Rapar and Bhuj, stench is emanating from decomposing bodies and rescue workers are being forced to wear masks. ``There is hardly any hope of finding survivors now,'' said an official.

Volunteers who reached Bachau on Saturday said the sounds from the debris had stopped. There could be 15,000 bodies under the debris. As many as 72 villages of Bhachau block met with a similar fate. Some of the relief workers who worked at Bhuj believe that the number of dead in the town could be around 20,000.

Anjar, which had a population of 80,000, has been flattened and it is estimated that the toll would not be less than 10,000. Thousands of bodies have already been burnt, making it difficult to arrive at the true picture.

In small towns and villages, most of the local police personnel also suffered personal losses and did not have any means left to either register or record the deaths.

Rehabilitation would be a costly affair Tuesday, January 30, 2001

The cost of putting Gujarat back on its feet will run into thousands of crore. The earthquake will not only hit gross domestic product (GDP) of the country but will also increase the projected fiscal deficit.

This may force the government to levy new taxes even before the forthcoming Budget. Although, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha denied news reports that the government was considering to impose surcharge on direct and indirect taxes, some harsh measures are inevitable to meet the requirements of fresh funds.

The estimate of the losses are still being worked out. According to FICCI, the total loss due to the quake will be in the region of Rs 25,000 crore. While the damage to buildings and construction has been kept at Rs 12,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore, losses due to damage to infrastructure facilities has been estimated between Rs 2,000 crore and Rs 3,000 crore. Damages to factory and production units have been put at Rs 1,500 crore. Besides this, the organisation estimated the losses due to complete stoppage of workers at Rs 3,500 crore to Rs 4,000 crore.

As Gujrat is a highly-industrialised state, the devastation was reflected in the stock markets on Monday. The 30-share Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex fell by 2.2 per cent (96 points) to close at 4235. Stocks of companies from high-growth sectors like information technology, telecom, media and entertainment, which were going up for last couple of weeks, took a downturn on Monday.

The good news in this sea of destruction accrues only to cement companies. Their shares, which had been going down for a long time, improved on Monday in anticipation of the increased demand of the commodity for the reconstruction of the devastated region. Share prices of companies like Gujarat Ambuja Cement and Gujarat Siddhi Cement Ltd, which operate in the state, improved during the day's trading.

In fact, some of the companies have decided to review the cement price. chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, Kumar Mangalam Birla on Monday at Mumbai said that they would review the price as the demand for the commodity is likely to go up as the reconstruction activity picks up.

Stocks of other cement companies like ACC, L&T and Madras Cement closed marginally lower than their previous close when the overall mood was bearish.

The insurance companies are the worst affected by the quake. All the four general insurance companies are busy estimating the total liabilites on account of the devastation. Minister of State for Finance Vikhe Patil, however, on Monday put the figure at much more than Rs 1,000 crore.

The liability of the insurance companies on account of group insurance under government sponsored scheme is very big. However, the minister assured that there would not be much problem in meeting the liability. He said that by February 8, the companies would be ready to settle the claims.

8-month-old baby rescued after 81 hours! Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Last Friday's earthquake in Gujarat, one of the worst in India, has had its share of miracles in its trail of devastation.

As rows of buildings were razed killing and maiming thousands, a number of small babies were rescued without a scratch from underneath the pile of rubble in various worst-affected areas.

But the case of eight-month-old Murtaza Ali in Bhuj, the epicentre, belies belief.

Murtaza was rescued by a team of BSF personnel, 81 hours after the quake struck, in Gora Noor Fali area of old Bhuj town Monday evening from the lap of his mother's badly decomposed body. His father's body was lying by the side.

Personnel of 1011 BSF Arty Regiment, who have been scanning for possible survivors in the area rendered inaccessible by the mound of debris, retrieved the baby with minor scratches around 1730 hours.

The BSF men heard some sound akin to the crying of a cat while rummaging through the remains of the building. That led the team under Deputy Commandant Diwakar Kumar to Murtaza who was found under the arms of his mother's highly decomposed body.

''Murtaza was perhaps breastfeeding when the quake struck ... His mother's body had decayed and there were insects all over. Probably Murtaza had also fed on the blood oozing out of his mother's head,'' Diwakar told a UNI correspondent who was present in the area when the baby was brought to a makeshift medical camp. Stains of blood were found in Murtaza's mouth though there were no injuries.

The baby had only minor scatches in the head. Insects were also removed from Murtaza's navel, hair and some other parts of the body before doctors put him on saline. An hour later, he was removed to the military hospital, accompanied by his grandfather Moiz Jamali. Jamali, who till then was grieving the death of his daughter, son-in-law and grandson, was too overwhelmed to speak.

Teams from Switzerland and Britain, equipped with sniffer dogs, life-detector instruments and specialised cutting equipment, are still looking for possible survivors.

''Our personel have so far rescued more than 60 survivors. We will look for survivors at least till Tuesday as a trapped person can survive in this kind of a situation without food, water and proper breathing for a maximum duration of five days,'' said Assistant Commandant R K Thakur.

Men from the BSF regiment, located barely 1.5 km from the city limits, were the first to arrive in Bhuj, half an hour after the quake shook the entire area.

Reports of small babies being rescued alive are also pouring in from more areas. A month-old baby was rescued on Sunday in the totally devastated taluka town of Bhachau, 77 km from Bhuj, and six km beyond a two-month-old baby was brought out alive the same day from under the ruins of Vondh village.

There have also been some cases of octogenarians being rescued from under collapsed buildings. An 80-year-old lady was rescued Monday, almost four days after the quake, in Vondh. In Ahmedabad town an eighty-year-old man was rescued from the debris of a high rise building earlier.

A mother waits for train to Gujarat Tuesday, January 30, 2001

BERHAMPUR, Orissa: Anxious over the fate of her two sons in quake-hit Surat, Maya Behera has already spent two days at the railway station here waiting to catch a train that will take her to Gujarat.

The poor woman, who hails from Pandia village, about 35 km from here, has sold her earrings for Rs 500 for her journey to the unknown land.

A slip with an address written on it is Maya's only clue to the whereabouts of her sons, who are workers in a textile mill in Surat for the last three years.

Having missed the Puri-Okha express, which left on Monday, Maya is desperate."I have no patience to wait for another two days to catch the Puri-Ahmedabad express," she said while requesting officials to arrange for her journey.

There are several others like her waiting at the station - desperate to reach their kith and kin in Gujarat.

However, there are only two trains to Gujarat from south Orissa - the weekly Puri-Okha express and tri-weekly Puri-Ahmedabad express.

No special trains to the quake-hit state have been routed through Orissa, South Eastern Railway sources said.

A local resident said there were several people from Ganjam district working in Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot, and others complained about the lack of a special train from south Orissa to Gujarat.

As soon as the news of the earthquake spread Banamali Padhy of Gangapur village in the district left for Surat without losing any time.

With no trains available, Padhy, two of whose three sons are in Surat, left for Kharagpur to catch the special train which left Howrah via Jamshedpur, Rourkela and Jharsuguda.

Pravakar, Padhy's third son, also works in Surat but had returned to his village on January 25, just hours before the devastation struck Gujarat.

Asked whether he wanted to return to Gujarat again Pravakar said, "No doubt, Surat is my dream city. But I will think twice before returning there this time." (PTI)

Victims flee, relatives pour in Tuesday, January 30, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The sprawling railway station here, one of the largest in the country, resembles a sea of humanity as anxious relatives of the victims of Friday's earthquake make their way into Gujarat from all over the country.

At the same time, there are a large number of people making their way out of the quake-affected areas, migrating to the safety offered by the homes of relatives in neighbouring states, officials at the railway station said.

"Since January 27 (a day after the quake), the Western Railway (that operates services in this part of the country) have been running special trains to Gujarat from various states in keeping with requests from the people," railways spokesman Subhash Bhardwaj said.

Over the past two days, special trains have come in from Mumbai, Howrah, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai, bringing in hundreds of relatives of the people living in Bhuj and other quake-affected towns that have been cut off from the rest of the country since the earthquake, in which 20,000 people are feared killed.

"I have come from Chennai where I am studying engineering, to go to Bhuj, as I haven't been able to contact my parents who live in Pachchao," said Mahesh Bhansali, 21. "I tried calling them on telephone several times but I wasn't able to get through," he said.

The special trains leave here carrying hundreds headed the other way as Friday's earthquake has been followed by more than 200 aftershocks, including one measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale that rocked the state Sunday morning.

On Monday, several special military trains pulled into the station carrying relief supplies, including tents and blankets, and troops that would join the 4,500 soldiers already engaged in relief operations in Ahmedabad, Bhuj and other areas of the state. "More military trains are expected to arrive with relief supplies from Delhi within the next two days," said Bhardwaj.

The Western Railway will also send two special medical trains, each manned by 14 doctors, to the quake-affected areas, Bhardwaj said. One of these trains will run between Udhana in Surat District and Dhrangadhra in Rajkot District while the other will run from Palanpur in Banaskantha District to Radhanpur in Patan District, treating quake victims along the way, he said.

The Western Railway has also contributed Rs.1 million to the Gujarat Chief Minister's Relief Fund while the Western Railway's Mahila Samiti (organisation of women employees) has donated Rs.500,000.

The Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) has also been working overtime, running special services to the quake-affected areas of Bhuj, Ghandhidam and Bhachau. "More than 350 buses have been sent to Kutch district to ferry quake victims to safety," said GSRTC spokesman Hasmukh Patel.

"GSRTC has also sent medical and engineering teams to the quake-affected areas," he said. "However, most of our bus depots and stations in Kutch district have been destroyed by the quake. Many members of our staff have also been killed," Patel said. (IANS)

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