Faith keeps quake survivor alive for 3 days

BHUJ, India, AP

Kusumben Myacha lay for three days pinned under a massive chunk of cement, without food or water, drifting in and out of sleep. She prayed to her Hindu gods to be saved.

No one heard her screams until the stillness of the second night. At daybreak Sunday, rescuers began a frantic race to dig her out from under the rubble of the once seven-story apartment building.

Myacha, a 40-year-old mother of two, was pulled free as night fell. People wept as they saw her emerge. She had survived longer buried than anyone so far from Friday’s devastating earthquake in western India.

But the tales of dramatic rescues have become fewer as hopes faded Monday of finding any more people alive after three cold nights. By official count, the magnitude-7.9 quake had killed 6,287 people in the industrial state of Gujarat, and the state’s chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, said the toll could go as high as 20,000.

“Hope of finding survivors is dwindling hour by hour, but as long as there is hope, we won’t give up, said Joachim Ahrens, the spokesman of a Swiss government agency responsible for a Swiss rescue team in Bhuj. “The hopes are dwindling but they are not yet dead.”

He said the Swiss team rescued a seventh survivor from the debris Monday.

Fresh tremors shook another part of India on Monday panicking residents, but no reported damage beyond minor cracks in buildings. A magnitude-4.3 quake was centered 21 miles (33 kilometers) from Bangalore, a city 850 miles (1,350 kilometers) southeast of the epicenter of Friday’s quake near Bhuj.

Survivors on Monday complained that confusion and a lack of equipment was hampering rescue efforts. Rescuers lacked cranes and bulldozers, and many units did not even have generators, making night work impossible without lights. Soldiers hunting for survivors began work at first light and stopped when the sun went down.

Myacha’s rescue from under the Gokul Towers Sunday evening heartened searchers, who have been losing hope.

She wasn’t even the person rescuers were looking for. They originally thought the sounds under the concrete came from her neighbor, Meeraben.

“Can you hear me? Meeraben, are you there?” called an army rescue worker, bending low to an 8-inch (20-centimeter) opening in the debris.

After a pause, a faint voice responded. It was Myacha’s.

After she identified herself, a ripple ran through the crowd.

“Kusumben is alive … Kusumben is alive!” shouted an unidentified young girl pushing through the crowd. With tears running town her cheeks she stood near the rescue team as they worked steadily, pulling the concrete and metal slabs with their bare hands.

Lying on a bed in a makeshift hospital Monday, Myacha said she was in the bedroom of her first floor apartment when the quake struck, and her husband was out in the courtyard. Their children were in the living room and were able to flee before the building collapsed.

“When the quake started I thought I was dead,” she said.

When awake, she recited verses from “Hanuman Chalisa,” a holy book dedicated to a Hindu god revered for his bravery and loyalty. Hindus recite its lines to ward off danger.