Thursday, February 1, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Plenty of aid here, none there
From Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

BHUJ, Jan 31 — Sitting amidst the ruins, residents of this town are yet to come to grips with the tragedy. They know and, in some cases, can see their near and dear ones still lying buried beneath the debris, but are unable to extricate them, for there is no way they can do so with bare hands.

As government machinery and foreign rescue teams struggle in the face of overwhelming odds, there are still large areas within the devastated city itself where rescuers are yet to set foot. Though relief material is available in plenty, its effective distribution is lacking. The Bhuj airbase as well as government centres are littered with blankets, eatables, oil lamps, folding beds and clothes.

Among the worst hit areas in the city is Savay Falia Basti, a jumble of houses and tenements along narrow streets which had come up over the years in an unplanned manner.

The huge chunks of bricks and concrete give an idea of the magnitude of destruction, despair and grief which the most severe earthquake in recent times has brought to the people of Gujarat.

Not a single house in this area has escaped destruction or damage. Beneath the debris lie wrangled remains of auto-rickshaws, scooters, rickshaws and other items which once provided livelihood to those residing there. Locals say that a large number of bodies are still buried beneath the debris. Their estimates range from 200 to 350.

A 17-year-old boy explains that the majority of the dead could be women as a large number of males from the basti had been attending a funeral when severe tremors had sent structures tumbling down.

"Hamara Mummy yahan hai," says Ashwin Chauhan, pointing towards the debris at a green-coloured piece of cloth. It has been four days since he has been trying to extricate her body. The monotone of his voice only highlights the fact that he is now beyond grief and wants to get over with the whole thing.

Among them is a middle-aged woman who still does not know the whereabouts of her husband. People say that she has not stopped crying since the tragedy occurred. There are others who pour over local newspapers, gleaning the latest information about quake affected areas and talking in hushed tones.

People of the area say that so far no one has come to their basti for rendering any assistance. The narrow streets are blocked, making it virtually impossible to bring in any equipment for carrying out rescue operations.

People say that so far they have not received any food or other assistance from the government. They have to make do with whatever eatables they could extricate from debris.

Remains of what could have been someone’s last meals are still strewn around at places. A few have managed to collect together some of their belongings and huddle beneath temporary shelters. Many have no roof over their heads.

Despite suffering and grief, humanity is not lost. Trapped among the debris is an injured cow along with her calf. As blocked streets prevent the cow from being taken away, the residents of the basti have taken care to provide her with fresh fodder and water. Dogs scurry around even at the slightest noise, still showing fear.

A lone bulldozer began work to clear the streets this morning, but it is like trying to move a mountain with a spade. It could be days and even weeks before the debris are cleared and the bodies extricated.

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