Monday, February 5, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Rescue missions called off
Boy rescued after 8 days
From R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

AHMEDABAD, Feb 4 — Many are still looking into the debris for quake survivors even though more than a week has passed. It was a miracle when a boy was found alive inside a well by rescuers in Bachchau, the day the local authorities called off rescue missions.

Arjun Bhai, 17, was pulled out unscathed from a well, eight days after the disaster in the village of Sikaravadi, 13 km from the flattened town of Bachchau.

The rescue of Arjun has rekindled hopes in the hearts of many and they are optimistic that their loved ones could be alive too.

Arjun was found when he started throwing stones. Thinking that it (the earthquake) was a bomb he ran into a shed by the well and the shed fell into the well.

The Principal Secretary, Road and Building Department, Mr H.P. Jamdar, had told The Tribune that rescue mission would be called off on Saturday as the survival of persons below the debris were remote.

Following the directive of the local administration, the rescue missions were stopped. However, rescue teams from abroad expressing anger at the state government’s move, stated that they would carry on with their mission.

Stating that the government should not call off the rescue mission, foreign rescue agencies said persons had been found alive even after 14 days in Turkey. The weather is also favourable here and there was no reason to call off the search so fast.

The state government said 16,403 bodies of quake victims had been recovered and 55,573 persons were injured in the January 26 quake. The Union Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, had stated that about one lakh persons could have perished in the quake which measured 6.9 on the Richter scale.

The government has accepted the Gujarat quake as the biggest natural calamity to hit the nation since Independence.

More than 35 million persons had been affected and property worth Rs 208.75 billion had been damaged, the government said, adding that these were just the initial figures.

“We estimate the loss of property to be around Rs 208.75 billion as against the Rs 100 billion we had told Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee,” said P.K. Lahiri, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.

The number of houses completely destroyed had been put at 73,182 and 1,82,000 houses had been partially damaged.

Mr Lahiri told reporters that the state government’s earlier estimates were based on the information it received in the first few days after the quake.

The government had revised its estimates of destruction as the situation became clearer with each passing day, he said.

According to official estimates, the damage to household property in the rural areas of Kutch, the district most affected by the quake, was about Rs 40.95 billion, while the damage in other rural zones was about Rs 12 billion.

The damage to property in Ahmedabad, Bhuj, Anjar, Bhachau, Rapar, Maliya and Morbi had been estimated at Rs 59 billion.

Industrial and commercial establishments had reported a loss of Rs 80 billion and infrastructure and public utilities like water supply and sewerage reported losses of Rs 16.8 billion.

The state Home Minister, Mr Haren Pandya, today sought Rs 2,500 crore from the Centre to evolve and implement a crisis management policy for minimising damage by natural calamities in future.

Mr Pandya said the need to implement such a policy was necessitated by the fact that the state had been hit by two cyclones, two droughts, besides the killer earthquake in the past couple of years.

Amidst criticism from different quarters for lack of coordination in relief operations, the Gujarat Government is trying to streamline its working. A five-tier quake-control administration, from the state control room at Gandhinagar to administrative units of a few villages (called talukas), has been set up with senior bureaucrats put in charge of each taluka.

Aid workers added their voices to survivors’ criticism that while international aid had been plentiful and quick to arrive, lack of coordination made it less effective than it could have been. Much of the relief effort had been coordinated by private and religious groups, not by government agencies.

The quake-hit districts have been placed under a senior bureaucrat who can take decisions on expenditure up to Rs 100 million, and another officer has been put in charge to ensure proper coordination in the relief work.

Authorities in Ahmedabad have declared 90 buildings unsafe in the city. The buildings, some just a few months old, include residential and business towers. Demolition of buildings and removal of debris and bodies have become top priorities.

The police said it had arrested nine persons so far and registered several cases against builders in Ahmedabad on suspicion of violating building codes.

“At least 69 buildings have collapsed partially or fully in Ahmedabad causing casualties, in some cases the buildings were just six to eight month old,” the police Commissioner, Mr P.C. Panday, said.

“We have arrested nine builders so far on the basis of complaints filed by the residents and the number might go up in the coming days,” he said.

Aid workers feared decomposing matter being inhaled with dust and disease being spread in what one called a “feeding bonanza” by rats.

Doctors said the danger was twofold: decomposing matter could mingle with dust in the arid local environment, and enter the body through inhalation or open cuts. In addition, a surge in the rat population could have a devastating impact on public health.

In places where the bodies couldnot be easily retrieved, formalin was being sprayed to slow down the rate of decomposition. 


‘No idea about’ Musharraf visit

NEW DELHI, Feb 4 (UNI) — The External Affairs Ministry today denied knowledge of any plans for a visit by Pakistan Chief Executive, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to quake-hit Gujarat.

Reacting to reports that a visit to express sympathy by General Musharraf would take place by February 10, an official spokesman said the External Affairs Ministry was not aware of any such proposal. In the first direct contact after the October, 1999 coup, General Musharraf had phoned Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Friday to convey his condolences.

Pakistan had sent three plane-loads of relief supplies to Gujarat.

An Islamabad report, quoting a Pakistani official, had said that General Musharraf’s “goodwill gesture” visit could take place by February 10 if India agreed.


Quake rocks Koyna region

PUNE, Feb 4 (PTI) — An earthquake of slight intensity was recorded in the Koyna region of Maharashtra, about 144 km away from Pune, last night.

The Meteorological Office here said the quake, measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre at latitude 17.3 degree north and longitude 73.8 degree east, was recorded at 11.15 p.m.

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