|Sunday, January 28, 2001,
16,000 feared dead in Gujarat quake
AHMEDABAD, Jan 27 — Nearly 16,000 persons may have died in yesterday’s devastating earthquake in Gujarat where massive rescue and relief operations were under way today to cope with the disaster that has wiped out villages and rendered lakhs homeless.
Official sources in Bhuj, which bore the brunt of the quake, said the death toll in Kutch district alone could be around 15,000.
BJP leader Narendra Modi, who visited the ravaged district, said the number of dead in the state could cross 17,000 with 13,000 deaths in Kutch alone.
Heart-rending scenes were witnessed at Anjar in Kutch where 400 school-children participating in a Republic Day march died when the street caved in. None of the children and their 50 teachers could be saved as rescue workers and their equipment could not reach the spot located in a narrow bylane.
In Bhuj, 400 college students were feared killed in a hostel collapse.
In Ahmedabad, 40 schoolchildren appearing for a practical examination were killed when the roof of the laboratory collapsed on them.
Relief work was slow to get under way and has picked up 24 hours after the unprecedented natural calamity with the people scared to return to their homes fearing that it is unsafe because of the serious cracks and the seemingly endless aftershocks.
This city is numbed by the widespread devastation with some worst affected parts providing the spectacle of a ghost town. The affected have spent the time since the earthquake struck yesterday morning under the open sky. A lot of credit should go to the resilient people who have organised themselves in undertaking relief work and organising makeshift kitchens.
There is not much information coming out of Bhuj because of the snapping of road, rail and communication links including the high-tech fibre optic network. The road links to the town, having a population of about 150,000 have been snapped. Even the military airstrip there is being serviced by a helicopter in the air providing directions to incoming aircraft because of the damage to the air traffic control.
“No word-of-mouth information has reached here from Bhuj till this afternoon,” conceded officials. This only reflects the abysmal state of affairs pertaining to crisis management at all levels in the state.
The authorities concede that it took a while for the administration to guage the magnitude of the natural disaster and assess the help required in heavy cranes and other wherewithal to deal with the situation. In innumerable cases, including the one where school children were buried under the debris, help arrived rather too late.
The state has faced no fewer than 180 aftershocks. Kutch district in western Gujarat bordering Pakistan bore the brunt of the quake and more than 8000 casualties have been reported from this area alone.
Bhuj is also a forward air base of the Indian Air Force. Though the operational preparedness of the air base has not suffered a serious setback, official sources said upwards of 150 IAF personnel and their families living in civilian accommodation perished in the quake.
Dozens of apartment buildings and office complexes came crumbling down while scores of others developed serious cracks in the load bearing walls.
The relief work is being hampered by shortage of tents and space in buildings to accommodate the homeless who have virtually lost loved ones along with all their belongings.
India is among the dozen countries in the world ravaged by natural disasters resulting in 10,000 to 20,000 deaths annually. The loss to property in economic terms is estimated at a staggering Rs 600 to Rs 800 crore.
Relief Commissioner S K Nanda said that the administration wasdoing everything possible but the magnitude of the disaster was too massive for the administration to cope with. The disaster was all encompassing in the state stretching from Kutch to Vapi and Saurashtra in South Gujarat.
Mr Nanda pointed out that makeshift hospitals had been set up in Bhuj and medical teams had been rushed there. As the number of the injured was increasing by the hour and the facilities were highly inadequate, steps had been taken to airlift them to other centres like Pune.
Kandla port, located 70 Km from Bhuj, has suffered less damage amid reports of a serious oil spill in the area. The Navy has set up a disaster relief camp at Kandla to facilitate speedy movement of dry rations to the quake affected areas in the state.
The navy has also sent its survey ship to assess the damage if any to the jetties as the port handles a large number of oil tankers.
The state government has set up control rooms in Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Bhuj to provide latest information about the earthquake. It sent out an urgent appeal for milk powder, water pouches, flour, prepared food packets, eatables, clothes, blankets, first aid kits, bandages and blood.
However, communication links are yet to attain any semblance of normalcy. Even here and in Gandhinagar the telephone lines that had been restored could only receive incoming calls. The trunk lines to the major centres in Gujarat were clogged and it was a herculean task to get through to the helplines.
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