Death Toll Climbs in India's Worst Earthquake

AHMEDABAD, India, January 29, 2001 (ENS) - At least 25,000 people have died and many thousands more are critically injured and missing as a result of an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale that shook western India on Friday, India's 52nd Republic Day.

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Rescue workers from the Indian Armed Forces seek survivors in Ahmedabad. (Photo T.C. Malhotra)
The epicenter of the earthquake was located 13 miles northeast of Bhuj in Gujarat State, India. Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh were also affected.

Indian officials estimate that some 200,000 people have been left homeless.

Bhuj, with a population of 150,000, is the worst affected city where 10,000 people have reportedly been killed. In Bhuj, 50 percent of buildings have been destroyed and 95 per cent are no longer habitable. There is no electricity and no water in the entire town of Bhuj. The cities of Rajkot and Patan have also been severely affected.

Several aftershocks, the strongest of the series measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale, are hampering rescue and relief activities.

In Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat with 4.5 million residents, the Nehru bridge, which spans the Sabarmati river, was structurally damaged. As many as 100 high-rise and multi-story buildings have collapsed. Power lines, phone infrastructure, gas lines, railways, and water systems have been damaged.

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Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to arrive in Gujarat Monday.

The government of India has decided that while there will be no appeal for assistance, all offers made voluntarily will be gratefully accepted. India has received offers of assistance from a large number of foreign countries and aid agencies.

Search and rescue help is welcome including sniffer dogs, electronic equipment for searching for bodies and cutting concrete slabs, communication equipment, as well as mobile surgical operation theatres and other medical hardware.

Offers for supply of clothes and tents will be accepted if they can be airlifted to Ahmedabad. Medical and rescue teams will be welcomed provided they come in their own aircraft.

Government control rooms are functioning round the clock. All Indian Armed Forces and Security Forces are employed in rescue operations and other relief activities.

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Location of the earthquake in western India. (Map courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)
The central government and several state governments have sent additional medical teams together with medicine and medical equipment and supplies. The Indian Ministry of Health is sending a special team to check outbreak of epidemics.

Blankets and tents are being airlifted to the affected area. Railways will deploy special trains for evacuation of injured persons. Arrangements for mass cremations are being made.

The earthquake was the most powerful to strike India since August 15, 1950, when an 8.5 magnitude earthquake killed 1,538 people in northeastern Assam state.

A list of contacts for relief agencies can be found online at: http://www.interaction.org/india00/index.html