Grit rises twice from the rubble
Mother miracle saves infant
‘God, it’s an earthquake, and the roof crashed’
Council for rapid response
Calcutta Weather

Dudhai (Kutch), Jan. 30: 
Meher Sadhu stands on the parched bed of the Ganga-Jamuna river, scribbling furiously on a piece of paper.

‘Panjibhai’s brother’. ‘Rudabhai’s wife’. ‘Murji’s daughter’. He takes a quick look at the bodies laid out on the funeral pyre, identifies them and jots their names down.

He moves on to the next and pauses. His lips quiver. He struggles to fight back tears. But he has to get it over with.

He mumbles: “Poojari Khemdas Sadhu and wife” — as he writes down the names of his parents lying among the dead waiting for a mass cremation.

As the setting sun casts a shadow on Dudhai, one of the many villages in Kutch district ravaged in Friday’s earthquake, Meher gazes at the flames leaping up. He was soon a shimmering figure, framed by the billowing smoke and spitting fire.

The fire rages on. Meher wipes his eyes on his shirt sleeve, glances at the paper in his hand and walks away towards another site on the river bed where more bodies are being laid out for cremation.

Call of duty. No time for grief.

Meher is one of the few in the village who can go beyond scribbling their names, which they learnt under a literacy programme a few years ago.

Khemdas Sadhu, the lone priest in the village, had always wanted his two sons — Meher and Mukesh — to be different. He had thought his sons — both survived the quake with injuries — would one day lift the family out of grinding poverty, Meher said.

The father had not, however, figured that putting his sons through school might one day benefit not just his family, but the entire village.

Meher was doing for his village what illiterate residents of other villages could not do — listing the names of the dead for compensation.

Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel had announced that the family of each of the dead would get Rs 1 lakh as compensation. If his promise comes true, the amount would help many families pick up the pieces of life and rebuild.

“If we get even Rs 5 from the government, it will be due to Meher,” sarpanch Panjibhai Patel said. He was sceptical of the chief minister’s promise because till yesterday no official had come to the village.

But Panjibhai was full of praise for the college student whose effort may pay off one day. Kutch collector Kamal Dayani said he received information that people were digging out bodies and cremating them in a hurry. “This is going to be a major problem later because you need some kind of documentation to give compensation.”

Dudhai, about 50 km from Bhuj, is near ground zero. When nature gave vent to its pent-up fury on the morning of Friday, the village of some 500 families bore the brunt.

Meher had woken up late on Friday as it was a holiday and he wouldn’t have to travel 50 km on a crowded bus to his college in Bhuj. Just as he washed his face, the hard-packed floor began to sway.

He did not realise what was happening. “I had no time to think. I made a dash for the door,” he said. But he couldn’t make it.

The quake had ripped the door off its hinges and tossed it on him. He was trapped. Nearly 10 hours later, his neighbours sifting through the debris to trace any signs of life heard his groans. It took another two hours to pull the student out. His brother was also found nearby, wounded but alive.

“I am so ashamed of myself. I tried to save only my life and not my parents’ or brother’s,” Meher, with a bandage wrapped around his head and a toe, said.

“My father had always taught us to help others and he would not have approved of my behaviour.”


Ahmedabad, Jan. 30: 
The mighty earthquake may have toppled buildings, breached roads, buckled bridges and ravaged much of Gujarat. But it could not wrench a mother from her one-year-old child.

Naliniben Kumbre, 25, was found alive with her son, Keyuar, by rescuers from under the rubble of Mangalam apartments today — four days after the quake flattened the five-storeyed building.

Weak from hunger and thirst, the mother had, however, kept her child alive, suckling him every now and then whenever the baby cried in the pitch-dark, suffocating cage of fallen concrete — nearly 15 feet underground. She soothed him with lullabies.

“It’s just incredible. No one knows how they survived so long under the debris,” Ahmedabad deputy commissioner Vinay Vyas said. “The mother’s intense desire to keep her child alive may have helped both survive.”

As the woman stepped out of the black hole aided by rescuers, a neighbour held out a glass of tea. She gulped it before they were taken in an ambulance to LG hospital.

“The mother and son did not have any external injuries,” said a doctor at the hospital where they were admitted. “The woman was suffering from trauma, but their condition was stable.”

The woman and her son made it alive but her husband couldn’t. His body was recovered yesterday, an official said. But the woman wasn’t told today that she had become a widow because “the shock news could harm her mental health at this stage”, the doctor said.

Ahmedabadis rejoiced the good news that spread quickly across the city by bush telegraph.

The survival of the mother and son raised hope of finding more survivors. But Vyas discounted the possibility.

“It was a miracle and miracles do not happen all the time. You can’t expect to rescue any survivor from under the rubble four days after the tragedy,” he said.

The official toll topped 600 in the city. All those who died were residents of apartment buildings that had come crashing down during the quake.

Almost all the markets opened today as residents started returning to the restaurants and ice cream parlours dotting the city. Traffic snarled up on the streets, which were virtually empty in the last four days. “Life has to go on,” said Devendra Makwana, a senior administration official. “Fear had to give way to normality.”

But as the night approached, many residents in the quake-ravaged new city who had gone back to their homes during the day, came out to spend yet another night in the open with their families, still living in fear. “How can you guarantee that another earthquake will not strike us?” asked Leelabhai Desai, a resident of Kankara. “We have to guard ourselves against another tragedy.”

Her fear was not unfounded. Late. tonight, fresh tremors rippled through the city, sending waves of panic.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
I was rudely woken up by my friends at 8.40 am, on Republic Day, at Anjar. I was told to get out of my sleeping bag and be ready in a rush so that we could leave immediately for Bhuj, 40 km from where we were.

Suddenly, I felt the ground beneath my feet starting to tremble. Then, the two-storeyed house started swaying violently. I jumped out of the sleeping bag... I could hear my friends shouting out. “God, it’s an earthquake. Come out of your rooms,” yelled our teacher, rushing towards the staircase. Before we could react, he had toppled off the balcony and was trapped under the crumbling staircase.

I saw five members of our team making a mad dash for the courtyard. I, too, tried to run, but lost my balance. With the building still swaying, I slid under a large table. Just then, the roof came crashing down. The table saved my head, but my legs were trapped under the rubble.

I lay there, not feeling the pain, listening to the rumble and the cries of help coming from the next room. I was praying for the quake to stop. It finally did, after what seemed an eternity. The five who had managed to escape to safety, then got into the rescue act. First, they got our teacher out. He was bleeding profusely from a deep gash on the head. Next, they dragged out the girls, trapped in the room next to mine. They had the toughest time rescuing me, as I couldn’t move my legs. They used hammers and wooden beams to smash through the rubble. After two hours, braving mild tremors, they finally managed to pull me out. The cuts, bruises and broken bones really didn’t seem to matter. All we wanted was to get out of there, and fast. The 12 of us hobbled out — the wounded and traumatised being helped along — in search of “open space”. We didn’t find one for 4 km.

That three-hour-long journey will haunt me forever. Wherever we went, there were buildings reduced to rubble with bodies trapped under them. Anjar seemed to have been wiped out, flattened by a demonic blow. We made our way through the devastation, with the air filled with screams of despair.

We reached a field around 1 pm, where a relief camp had been set up. From there, we took our teacher to the medical centre. The clinic was crowded, with hundreds of victims and a lone doctor, bravely operating three patients simultaneously. We returned to the camp once our teacher was stitched up. The locals, who had survived the quake, cooked a meal for us.

The news of the disaster had reached the parents of some of our friends in nearby towns and they sent cars to pick us up from Anjar. At night, we reached Gandhidham and were reunited with 15 other members of our team who had left Anjar before us. We spent the night on the streets, wounded and weary, without food or warm clothes. But we were all alive, and that’s all that mattered.

On the morning of the 27th, we left Gandhidham for Ahmedabad in five cars. All the arrangements were made by Jan Vikas, an NGO, and the parents of our friends. From Ahmedabad, I flew to Mumbai on 28th and came back home to Calcutta on 29th.


New Delhi, Jan. 30: 
In a move that will ensure swift response to natural calamities, the Centre today decided to set up a permanent disaster management group (DMG) comprising senior officials and scientific experts.

The move comes a day after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee visited quake-struck Gujarat and said the nation was not equipped to tackle the catastrophe.

Sources said the DMG proposal figured in this evening’s maiden meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) set up yesterday by Vajpayee. It is headed by L.K. Advani and has George Fernandes, Yashwant Sinha and Nitish Kumar as members.

“The time has come to set up a DMG which will address what the country needs to do when calamities of such massive proportions occur and how best the government should be equipped to handle difficult situations,” Advani said. The Centre, however, will not derecognise the crisis management group that is coordinating quake relief and rehabilitation under the chairmanship of Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad.

The DMG to handle the Gujarat quake will include officials from various ministries as well as seismologists, meteorologists, geologists and cyclone experts.




Maximum:29.2°C (+1)
Minimum: 13.1°C (0)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 92%,


Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C
Sunrise: 6.21 am
Sunset: 5.18 pm

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