Quake survivors seek food and water

BHUJ, India, Reuters

Survivors of India’s giant earthquake scoured shops for food and water on Sunday as relief reached slowly tens of thousands stricken by the worst quake in nearly a century.

Two days after the killer quake struck, people in the worst-hit town of Bhuj sneaked back into their destroyed homes looking for personal belongings.

“There is no food, no water, people are taking whatever they can from shops,” said survivor Yusuf.

A Red Cross official said 10 tons of blankets and plastic sheeting had been flown into Bhuj where rescue workers were still struggling to clear mountains of rubble.

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

Bhuj, in the marshy Kutch district, is located about 20 km (12 miles) from the epicenter of the quake that cut a swathe of destruction through the western state of Gujarat on Friday, killing an estimated 15,000 people and injuring thousands.

Thousands of bodies are still trapped under mounds of mangled steel and concrete. Piles of rubble tower 25 feet high in many places.

An old man sat next to the rubble of a house sobbing. “My relatives used to live here. I don’t know where they are now.”

There was jubilation when army rescuers pulled a college student alive from a large mound of debris in which he had been trapped for more than 36 hours.

The boy’s weeping father and other relatives kept vigil all through the rescue effort, urging the soldiers to greater effort.

Officials warned on Sunday of a serious risk of epidemic if trapped bodies were not removed quickly.

“As the weather is quite cold, the bodies are not rotting,” one army official told Reuters. “But if they are not removed soon, there could be a major risk of disease spreading.”

Temperatures in the region can rise as high as 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day, but fall sharply at night.

“All villages around Bhuj have disappeared from the face of the earth,” said Prithivraj Jadeja, who travelled from his village, some 50 km (30 miles) from Bhuj.

Surgeons carried out operations in open tents in a military hospital overflowing with patients, including many brought by relatives on their shoulders.

A seven year-old boy whose feet were crushed was writhing in pain: “Papa, Papa,: he cried.

“The majority of injuries are on the head and spine. Some came with limbs dangling,” said chief surgeon lieutenant colonel G.K.Lahiri.

Panic sparked briefly early on Sunday as fresh tremors shook the earth and rattled roofs again for 10 to 12 seconds.

People streamed out of makeshift shelters, taking care to stay away from damaged buildings. The apartment blocks that still stand are deserted.

Gujarat has felt nearly 200 aftershocks as the earth settles after Friday’s earthquake and this has slowed rescue efforts.

Police officials moved their desks and chairs out of the police-stations and on to the roads.

Three days after the quake, there was no electricity. The police in Bhuj have just one high frequency radio telephone system with which to communicate with the outside world and help coordinate relief efforts. Residents of the town said the army was pressing more bulldozers, cranes, and trucks into rescue work. The air force base at Bhuj rang with activity through the night as planes landed with medical teams and supplies from around the country.