Wednesday, January 31, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Fernandes puts quake toll at 1 lakh
Snapping of communication links hampers rescue work
Tribune News Service

AHMEDABAD, Jan 30 — Following the snapping of the communication network during the January 26 catastrophic earthquake, the Keshubhai Patel government in Gujarat has been put under severe strain in undertaking rescue operations in the far-flung areas of Kutch district and the backward Saurashtra region.

This has caused widespread confusion in conveying the administration’s orders in the interior of Kutch district which has taken the brunt of the most savage earthquake.

Gujarat’s minister of state for information and home Haren Pandya said today that the death toll in the earthquake is between 15,000 and 20,000. He claimed the estimate is based on data pertaining to bodies recovered, missing people and the possible number of those buried under the debris.

It is apparent the state government has been unable to collate the necessary information from Kutch district, which is the second largest after Bastar, and Saurashtra where several villages and small towns have been completely razed to the ground.

The worst fears of those who survived the fury of the earthquake from these devastated areas is that at least 30,000 to 40,000 people are unaccounted for and may have suffered the worst fate.

Mr Pandya refused to comment on the worst fears of Union defence minister George Fernandes that the death toll might run into six figures and the number of those injured can be twice as much. His single line comment was, “This might be the personal assessment of Mr Fernandes.”

At the same time sources in the government admit that urgent and most immediate communication has failed to reach its destination because of the disruption in the communication network. Even at the best of times, the state government is not geared up like the armed forces which speedily puts in place emergency lines for critical two-way communication.

This being the case after nearly five days have elapsed following last week’s black Friday, the hope of finding any survivors in the debris is fast receding barring a miracle.

An unprepared administration is trying to battle it out with the help of the armed forces and the central police organisations to get its act together of providing succour to the affected people.

There is a suggestion from certain quarters in the Keshubhai Patel government that it might be better to hand over the entire rescue and relief operations to the armed forces and the central police organisations till the administration gears up its own machinery.

Fear psychosis might have also gripped the state government employees about reporting back for duty and the assignment in store for them. Orders cancelling all leave were issued two days back, imploring employees to report for duty immediately because of the exigencies of the situation.

Authoritative sources said the response to the state government’s directive has been lukewarm . “There is a growing feeling that if the Keshubhai Patel government’s writ does not run in the Capital itself, how is it going to make any kind of impact in other parts of the state where the communication links in any case are non-existent.”

With the outbreak of a serious epidemic staring the authorities in the face, vultures are making their presence felt in Anjar, Bhuj and other areas where the stench from the bodies trapped in the mountain of debris is becoming increasingly unbearable. 

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