Tower of dead on twisted earth
Lockers, not people, are safe
Rapid response from Bush
Great divide on Wall of God
Calcutta weather

Ahmedabad, Jan. 27: 
There is nothing left between the sky and the earth. Only bodies.

As Dawood Ismail Siddhi’s wail sliced the deathly silence of Bhuj, the epicentre of Friday’s cross-border earthquake that cut a swathe of devastation across Gujarat, the trickle of bodies being dug out grew into a pile, then a heap and, by nightfall, a mountain.

Galloping by the minute, the bodycount reached 11,000 — Bhuj alone accounted for 6,000 of the toll — at 10 pm. “The toll is going up everywhere,” state home minister Haren Pandya said, adding that it could touch 15,000 soon.

Siddhi’s two nephews were killed in the quake that transformed Pachchao, a town of 40,000 people about 70 km from Bhuj, into a scene of unimaginable disaster. “There is no electricity and no one from the government has come to help,” he said.

Nearby, his sister Khadija Bano rocked back and forth in silent grief as she waited for help to bury her two children.

Rescue operations began quickly in bigger cities like Ahmedabad. Planeloads of relief supplies and medical teams and engineers had been flown to Bhuj, the town worst hit by the quake. But relief was slower to reach the remote towns in the marshy district of Kutch.

Residents waited in the ruins of their homes with pots and pans scattered about. The injured were stretched out on makeshift beds waiting for medical aid while the dead lay where they had fallen. A child’s tricycle poked out from under a concrete slab.

Many people complained that the government had not provided food, water or medicines even 24 hours after the earthquake which hit with terrifying intensity at 8.46 am.Though Gujarat was worst-affected by the biggest earthquake to convulse the country in 50 years, tremors were felt elsewhere as well. Smoke streaked the sky as survivors, fearful of disease, began cremating dozens of bodies. Many bodies had been burned, but often had not been cremated properly. The remains of several people were still smouldering.

In the village of Sikra, 60 km east of Bhuj, every house had either been flattened or cracked. A woman, Ganga Praji Patel (Picture on Page 6), lay with gashes on her skull. She had run from home with her four-year-old daughter as the tremors began but they were hit by debris and fell into a well. Villagers managed to rescue her, but her daughter lay dead.

About 350 schoolchildren and 50 teachers out on a school parade in Anjar, a small town of 30,000 people, were buried when the earthquake flung debris into the small alley where they were marching. Another 50 had been pulled out alive.

“This was probably one of the worst experiences I have ever had — you could call it the longest day,” said Anil Chadha, superintendent of Ahmedabad’s Civil Hospital. Many people had died of asphyxia or were trampled in stampedes, doctors said.

Along the cracked roads leading to Bhuj, collapsed houses and buildings dominated the landscape. Survivors pushed handcarts carrying their injured relatives, desperately seeking medical help. Among the dead were more than 100 air force personnel at an air base and in surrounding civilian areas, an official said.

In Ahmedabad, where about 350 people were reported dead, rescue workers and survivors clawed away at the rubble. But in many places, it was too late. Rescue workers spoke of voices which had gone silent in the night, as they carried on the grim task of pulling dead bodies from the rubble. Many Ahmedabad residents expressed anger that recently-constructed buildings had been built illegally, flouting regulations meant to limit the risk of collapse in this earthquake-prone zone. The army and air force swung into the biggest-ever rescue effort, deploying 4,700 personnel in the state.

Offers of help came from several states as well as from other countries, including the US and Pakistan. Pakistan ruler Pervez Musharraf sent a message of sympathy to the Prime Minister.

Calcutta tremors

The Met Office in Calcutta, which falls in the medium-risk zone, said the city will feel mild tremors for the next few days as aftershocks from Friday’s fury continue. The weather office recorded two tremors this morning.


Ahmedabad, Jan. 27: 
Ahmedabad was settling down before television sets for the annual exhibition of the Republic’s might. But before the march of the men and machines in Delhi came alive on the small screen, nature displayed its raw power.

The earth started shaking and a five-storeyed building, 400 yards from my house, collapsed like a pack of cards.

Running out, I saw Tagore Apartments being reduced to rubble — a scene I had seen only in films. Within minutes, the 32 families living in the building had either died or were homeless.

People were screaming. Residents of the adjoining building started running out. It had also developed cracks. The crowd had swelled by now, but no one knew what to do. The fire brigade was not informed till 9.15 am, almost half- an-hour after the building caved in. The firemen reached at 11 am.

Some young men, mostly students from the National Institute of Design, came forward to help clear the debris. But rescue work could not start because there were no torches or gas-cutters. When help arrived, six men were rescued.

The city seemed to have been cut off from the rest of the world. Phone lines went dead, power went off, petrol pumps were closed. As word spread that an another four-storeyed building, housing Central Bank, had caved in, worried account-holders gathered outside. Someone, possibly from the bank, had put up a notice that read: “Bank lockers are safe”!

I saw a brand new Maruti car crushed under the debris. Everywhere, there were similar scenes. More than six multi-storeyed buildings had been reduced to rubble .

Crowds had begun to collect as people spilled out of their homes onto the streets.

By now the rumour mill had started working, spreading panic. “There will be another earthquake,” the buzz went. Someone said two foreign television networks had announced there would be another tremor between 11 pm and 1 am. This ensured that most of the 40 lakh residents slept out in the open, ignoring the biting chill.

People refused to return home as Ahmedabad continued to feel the aftershocks of the earthquake today. As many as 22 aftershocks were recorded till 9.30 am today. “I cannot think of going back to my fourth floor apartment in Mansi building, a part of which collapsed,” said a resident, Hiraben Rayjada.

Even as the rescue operation at Tagore Apartments continued today, it was also time for politicians to visit the city. Congress president Sonia Gandhi passed through briefly, visiting the spot where the five-storeyed building had stood yesterday.

“Today I saw Sonia Gandhi,’’ said Darshana Trivedi, a housewife, unmindful of the tragedy that has changed the lives of thousands.

Another irony was the escape of 188 convicts from a jail in Bhuj. The prisoners, among them 50 “hardcore criminals” , fled after a wall collapsed .


Washington, Jan. 27: 
Acting with uncharacteristic speed by UN standards, a five-member Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team despatched by secretary-general Kofi Annan is to arrive in India tomorrow.

The team is expected to go to Ahmedabad immediately to assess the damage and recommend to the UN India’s requirements to cope with the natural calamity.

The team left for India even as North America acted swiftly to express sympathy with victims of the earthquake and rush relief to Gujarat.

Within hours of the earthquake, Canada announced assistance of $ 1 million for relief efforts. Of this, $ 200,000 will go to the International Red Cross and has been earmarked for blankets, shelter for displaced persons, medical supplies and water purification.

The remainder is being given to Canadian and Indian NGOs to be spent on relief needs assessed by official agencies.

Canada’s minister for International Cooperation, Maria Minna, said in a statement: “We express our deepest sympathy for the people affected by the disaster. Canada will help with relief efforts in areas most affected by the earthquake.”

US President George W. Bush condoled the deaths in Gujarat and said “earthquakes know no political boundaries”. He said the US stood ready to provide assistance to the governments of India and Pakistan.

In a statement released by the White House, Bush said: “I am saddened by the news of the tragic earthquake centred in Gujarat. I send my condolences and those of the American people to the families of the many victims in the cities and villages of Gujarat and elsewhere.” As America woke up to news of one of the worst earthquakes in recent times, secretary of state Colin Powell telephoned Indian ambassador Naresh Chandra at his residence to ask “if it would be in order to send supplies to the disaster area”.

Powell, who has asked the state department to periodically update him on the situation in affected areas, has also told the department to do everything to help India in its hour of need.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher said: “We have our experts geared up, but until the Indians get to us, we won’t be mobilising any specific aspect.”

The co-chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on India, Jim McDermott and Ed Royce, wrote to Bush: “This quake will have a massive impact for a long time to come. We urge you to lend the considerable resources available to us to the Indian government and the people of Gujarat so that the effects of this natural disaster may be eased. By sending humanitarian assistance now, we not only aid a nation in its time of need; we will also be forging a deeper relationship between our two democracies.”

Following up on the despatch of the five-member team to India, the UN Secretary General said the world body was ready to augment the valiant relief efforts, already undertaken by the Indian authorities. Annan expressed sadness at the massive loss of lives.

Harri Holkeri, the Finnish president of the UN General Assembly, hoped the world community “will demonstrate its solidarity by responding promptly and generously to any requests for assistance from governments of the countries affected” by the disaster.

Among the Indian community organisations which are already exploring possibilities of NGOs help to Gujarat is the International Mahavir Jain Mission which has a membership of about 6,500 Jain families in the US and another 500 in Canada. This affluent community is being contacted by phone by its leaders for donations.

Swaminarayan Temple, which has its headquarters in Ahmedabad and a large network of devotees all over Gujarat, is also gearing up to collect medicines, food and clothing to be sent to the displaced people.

A spokesperson for World Vision Canada, a relief organisation, said in Toronto that its volunteers had already reached Ahmedabad and were distributing food and clean water to the needy.


Jan. 27: 
A day after the seismic explosion along one of the country’s most vulnerable belts, scientists today spoke in different voices on the magnitude of the killer quake.

While the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in Delhi said the earthquake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, the Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) along with observatories in China, France and the US recorded the magnitude at 7.9.

The Met Office in Calcutta, which falls in the medium-risk zone, said the city will feel mild tremors for the next few days as aftershocks from Friday’s fury continue. The weather office recorded two tremors this morning. The first, barely readable by the seismographs, was felt at 9.30 am. The second, measuring 5.8 on the Richter, hit the city at 10.12 am. Its epicentre lay 1,229 km to the city’s west.

Harsh K. Gupta, director of NGRI, said the institute’s findings showed that the quake measured 7.9 at the Bhuj epicentre. The desert town stands on the notorious Allah Bund (Wall of God) fault.

IMD scientists insisted that figures being put out by other study centres in the country and elsewhere were incorrect. “We stand by our figures,” said A.K. Shukla, a seismologist.

Shukla maintained that the centre had pegged the magnitude at 6.9 after going through recordings collected from more than 50 observatories across the country.

The data are collated in the department’s headquarters in Delhi and the average is worked out thereafter. Shukla believes such an accurate method cannot go wrong.

The scientist argued that the discrepancy could be because there are different ways of measuring an earthquake’s magnitude. Some of the other calculations may have been based on the surface wave measurement.

However, the figures that kept flowing into the IMD computer last morning did not have the readings from the observatory in Bhuj and another in its vicinity. Both observatories have been extensively damaged.

Shukla said despite that, the IMD’s recording was correct. “We have 55 very sophisticated observatories all over the country,” he said.

G.J. Nair, head of the seismology department of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, said the US reading of 7.9 appeared to be correct because it was based on the surface waves which are of long periods.

Detailed investigations of Allah Bund over the decades could have yielded valuable information, but the wall became a sensitive issue being close to the border between India and Pakistan. Field studies began only in 1997.

The 90-km-long, 20-km-wide and 4.3-m-high wall was created after an earthquake on June 16, 1819. About 2,500 people were killed in the quake estimated at 8.3.

The collision of the tectonic plates — the more-or-less rigid segments that the Earth’s lithosphere is divided into and move in relation to one another — under the Himalayas may have played a role in Friday’s killer quake. The Rann of Kutch falls within the highest-risk zone on the seismic map.

Most of the major earthquakes to rock India occur along what is known as the Himalayan-Alpine Belt, where the piece of the Earth’s crust known as the Indian plate collides with the Eurasian plate.

Seismologists admitted that though a great deal is known about where quakes are likely to occur, there is no reliable way to predict the day or month when they could strike.




Maximum: 26.8°C (-1),
Minimum: 11.9°C (-2)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 36%


Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C
Sunrise: 6.23 am
Sunset: 5.16 pm

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