AHMEDABAD, India, AP
Angry survivors of India’s severe earthquake accused authorities of conducting a sluggish rescue effort that has left thousands trapped under rubble as hope of their survival fades.
Two days after the magnitude-7.9 quake struck, state authorities were frantically looking for forklifts, cranes and metal cutting equipment to reach trapped victims. Rescue workers and residents clawed through the rubble of collapsed buildings with sticks, iron rods and bare hands.
More than 6,000 people were confirmed dead Sunday, and officials said the final death toll could be thousands more.
“We lost precious hours soon after the earthquake. Every state government officer we called was away at a parade. Even police came six hours after the quake,” said Dhrumal Vaidya, a movie cameraman, on Saturday.
State government officials were attending a military parade to commemorate the adoption of India’s constitution in 1950 when the earthquake struck.
At almost all the collapsed 42 buildings in the state capital, local residents complained they had to organize rescues themselves.
“The municipal corporation has not helped at all,” Ashok Patel, a bank manager in a neighborhood where residents struggled to lift debris with a crane.
“We private citizens have arranged for this single crane,” he said. “We need at least another two cranes, but who will listen to us?”
Part of Patel’s office caved in and the entrance was blocked by a 40-foot (12-meter)-long slab from an adjacent 10-story apartment building.
Gujarat state’s home minister, Haren Pandya, said authorities urgently need more cranes, gas torches, vehicles, bulldozers, blankets and medical equipment.
“Our need is so much more than what we have,” he said.
Some of the equipment in Ahmedabad was sent to Bhuj, a town of 150,000 people that was flattened because it was close to the epicenter of the earthquake.
Gujarat’s minister for transport and information technology, Bimal Shah, defended the government’s efforts to help trapped people and urged people to wait for engineers and rescue specialists to arrive.
“Rescue operations after an earthquake is a specialized task,” he said. “You can’t have people rushing in to pull at the masonry in a haphazard manner, especially if there are people trapped under the rubble.”
Movie cameraman Vaidya blamed poor enforcement of construction standards for many deaths.
“So many buildings have come up in recent years which clearly wouldn’t meet any of the building standards,” he said. “Unscrupulous builders get away with it, and it takes a tragedy like this for people to realize they’ve been cheated.”