Hunger follows aftershock horror
Appeal for World Bank billion to pick up pieces
Ghani takes mahajot plunge
Calcutta Weather

 
 
HUNGER FOLLOWS AFTERSHOCK HORROR 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Bhuj, Jan. 28: 
The smiling face of Kusam Soni emerging to meet her husband after spending 56 hours pinned down by a ceiling fan and the tears of relief streaming down the face of a father whose son had been pulled out of a 36-hour burial under debris were visions that passed fleetingly by as counting the dead lost all meaning.

Defence minister George Fernandes said after a visit he feared the toll could be 20,000 from the earthquake that convulsed this region on Republic Day. But the task of estimating the number of dead paled into insignificance as strong aftershocks measuring up to six on the Richter scale sent fresh waves of panic crashing into thousands of hungry and thirsty people.

With relief reaching slowly, survivors of the quake hunted for food and water in shops that still stood on the ground. “There is no food, no water. People are taking whatever they can from shops,” one of them told Reuters.

“It is a major catastrophe here. The priority is food because shops are being emptied out,” said a Red Cross official.

Villagers injured in the quake were trekking or piling on to whatever vehicles they could find to get to cities in search of medical help. Some died on the way. Injured people had reached even Ahmedabad, about 10 hours drive from Bhuj, to find hospitals overflowing with the dead and the barely living. A corridor at VS Hospital in Ahmedabad was crammed with bodies.

Thousands of bodies are still trapped under mangled steel and concrete in this town of about 1.5 lakh people, 20 km from the epicentre of the quake. Bhuj looked a “bombed-out” town, with debris piling into mountains, bridges developing cracks and NH 8A splitting down the middle.

Several bonfires lit up the remains of the quake tonight with the district administration going in for mass cremation. District collector Kamal Dayani said no records were being maintained and bodies were being burnt arbitrarily.

All three district hospitals within 90 km of the epicentre — at Bhuj, Anjar and Bachau — have been flattened and all patients killed. Additional medical director N.K. Patel, who is camping here, said the toll had touched 20,000.

Patel said 300 patients, along with relatives who had come visiting them on Republic Day, died in the Bhuj hospital collapse alone, but incredibly not a single doctor or nurse was hurt.

Four medical camps have been set up to attend to the survivors, one on the collapsed hospital premises itself. But there appeared to be more doctors available today than patients seeking help. About 2,500 people have been shifted to Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Jamnagar hospitals.

A Bhuj district hospital officer said till yesterday people had come in with compound fractures, but today there were only two patients. Patel said this possibly indicated there were no more survivors.

A team of doctors sent from Delhi has reported that about 50,000 people are caught under rubble. “Our medical team has described the condition of the town as completely devastated. No part of the town is left untouched,” an official at a government hospital in the capital said.

“All villages around Bhuj have disappeared from the face of the earth,” Prithviraj Jadeja, who travelled from his village 50 km away, added.

Brief moments of hope pierced the gloom when Kusam Soni, a woman in her mid-30s, was extricated by soldiers. Yesterday, a college student was rescued from a pile of debris as his weeping father and relatives kept vigil throughout.

In Anjar, most of the 400 schoolchildren — caught by the earthquake when they were marching through a narrow lane on their Republic Day parade — were presumed dead. Only eight could be rescued.

Shaken awake by another tremor after a chilly night outdoors, residents of Bhuj wandered around dazed. As day dawned and temperatures soared, officials warned of a risk of epidemic if trapped bodies were not removed quickly and started rotting.

The Bhuj district collector said the administration was “overwhelmed” by the scale of the devastation.

The fresh round of tremors — at least 250 aftershocks have occurred since Friday — hampered rescue efforts. Today, they began past midnight and continued into the day, registering between 3.1 and six on the Richter scale.

The seismology department at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai has recorded 257 aftershocks, 20 of these above five on the Richter scale. The department warned the Gujarat government against allowing people to move in. The authorities should check “whether it (buildings) can withstand a magnitude of six to seven on the Richter scale”, the head of the department said.

Panic struck briefly early morning when the tremors began to be felt for 10 to 12 seconds. People rushed out of makeshift shelters, keeping away from damaged buildings. The apartment blocks still standing were deserted.

   

 
 
APPEAL FOR WORLD BANK BILLION TO PICK UP PIECES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 28: 
The government today decided to seek $1.5-billion loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to fund reconstruction in Gujarat.

At a meeting of economic ministers convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his residence this evening, concern was expressed at the scale of destruction wrought by the earthquake. Apart from Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Yashwant Sinha and industry minister Murasoli Maran were present at the meeting.

Sinha said $1 billion would be sought from the World Bank and the rest from the ADB.

The World Bank said tonight it was talking to the Indian government on relief assistance. “Our hearts go out to the thousands of people who have lost so much in a matter of seconds and we will continue to stand by the government and people of India as it seeks to clear the rubble of this devastating event,” World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn said in a release here today.

The meeting also decided to relax foreign exchange law restrictions to allow donations to flow in smoothly from abroad. Earlier in the day, the Reserve Bank was told to allow the Ahmedabad administration to withdraw any amount it felt necessary.

The Life Insurance Corporation and the General Insurance Corporation have been instructed to settle claims immediately without causing harassment. Commercial banks have been told to function from makeshift offices in the affected zones if their own buildings have collapsed or developed cracks.

Several tax relief measures were announced for those contributing to calamity relief in the state. Sinha announced the decisions outside the Prime Minister’s residence after the two-hour meeting.

More such major financial decisions would follow within the next few days once the Prime Minister returns from his survey of the quake-hit areas.

He made it clear that the government would not waste any time and had already instructed its officials in Washington and Manila (headquarters of the ADB) to get the loan procedure going.

The finance minister said: “Massive resources are necessary because the reconstruction work to be undertaken in Gujarat is enormous. The devastation is too big.”

He agreed that a clear picture of the extent of damage and how much it would cost the exchequer was yet to emerge, but he did not feel the catastrophe would have an impact on his budget.

Still, he argued, resources would have to be somehow mobilised for reconstruction.

In the next 48 hours, Delhi would carry out another ministerial-level review of the situation after the Prime Minister returns from the quake-ravaged zones.

It was Advani’s suggestion that the foreign exchange rules be eased so that NRIs, especially of Gujarati origin, could lend a helping hand. Indian embassies have been alerted to the change.

Sinha said a decision has been taken to permit 100 per cent tax exemption for contributions made to any fund earmarked for relief and reconstruction under Section 80g of the Income-Tax Act. Even contributions made by corporate houses will be exempt under Section 35 of the same Act.

He said the National Housing Bank has allocated Rs 500 crore for reconstruction in Gujarat. Sinha added that excise and customs duty exemption would be given for commodities sent as relief.

   

 
 
GHANI TAKES MAHAJOT PLUNGE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Jan. 28: 
Defying the leadership, veteran Congress leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury declared in Malda today he would join a mahajot with Mamata Banerjee despite her links with the BJP.

The announcement by the former state Congress chief flew in the face of his successor, Pranab Mukherjee’s attempt to convince him of the dangers of a so-called grand alliance with Mamata and the BJP barely 24 hours ago. Mukherjee had visited Malda yesterday to tell Chowdhury of the party’s “political compulsions at the national level which stand against the mahajot concept.”

“We will bring about a mahajot, come what may. The emergence of anti-CPM forces is the need of the hour to oust the ruling communists from Bengal and for that we will have to overlook Mamata’s BJP connections,” Chowdhury said.

Chowdhury, a former railway minister, was opening a computerised reservation centre at Malda station at Mamata’s instance. Earlier, a host of Trinamul leaders, including Sultan Ahmed, Congress MLA-turned Trinamul minority cell chief, had dropped in at his residence to discuss an alliance.

Minutes after this, Chowdhury, accompanied by five Congress MLAs, arrived at the reservation centre, though Mamata had left by then for Calcutta.

Asked how he dared ignore Mukherjee’s advice not to ally with Mamata, Chowdhury asked: “Is Pranabbabu my guardian? Have I to carry on my political programme on his advice?”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 26.8°C (-1)
Minimum: 12.2°C (-2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 36%

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C
Sunrise: 6.22 am
Sunset: 5.17 pm
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company