Hope Turns to Despair a Month After India's Killer Earthquake

Category: Nature & Science Topics: India, Nature And Environment Views: 934

BHUJ, India, Feb 26 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of families are still living in the open here a month after an earthquake pulverised this western Indian district into rubble, killing thousands of men, women and children.

"We will mark Monday as the day of our personal Armageddon, not only because the earthquake destroyed us but also because now we are a forgotten people," said Joseph Ekka, a volunteer, working in a makeshift hospital in ravaged Bhuj.

The 7.9 magnitude quake smashed through the state of Gujarat January 26, killing almost 30,000 people and leaving some 100,000 injured in the debris of their homes.

Entire villages vanished as four counties of Bhuj bore the brunt of the temblor, the worst to hit India in 50 years, while the rest of India celebrated its annual Republic Day with military parades.

The district administration here said a grim memorial to those killed will be opened later Monday with an invocation to the powers of nature performed in Bhuj by Bollywood's popular singer Anrudha Paudwal.

The preparations for the service came on the heels of four distinct aftershocks that shook Bhuj Sunday. The strongest, measuring 4.1 on the scale, came as a chilling reminder of the frontier Gujrati region's seismic fragility.

January's quake, which by an official count killed 4,293 in Bhuj town itself, has left even those with their homes intact sleeping outdoors.

Labanyend Mansinh, chief coordinator of relief operations in Bhuj, meanwhile, said the state government was working out financial compensation packages for the affected region.

"We are still working on the cost of relocating towns and villages. We will be guided by the desire of the people in this regard," Mansinh told AFP in Gujarat's commercial capital of Ahmedabad, also scarred by the quake.

But officials here agreed with relief worker Ekka and said shelter for the homeless was turning into a problem, despite the huge outpouring of national sentiment which has brought mountains of food, medicines and clothing to Bhuj.

"Around 400,000 families need tents today," a district spokesman said, adding that only 30,000 tents brought in by overseas aid agencies and local bodies have so far been distributed in Bhuj.

Many of the tents distributed, however, have been cornered by the "powerful and the influential sections of the society," a resident said, adding that bureaucrats were using donated canvas to cover their private vehicles.

"We admit the shortage but an order has been placed for 50,000 tents which will soon arrive," the Bhuj administration spokesman said, as survivors blocked roads in villages last weekend to press for speedy relief.

In Geneva, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said some communities of Gujarat were yet receive aid or shelter.

"Thousands of people are having to sleep out in the open with either minimal or no form of protection," IFRC said on Friday.

Bhuj district's major towns have all been flattened by the quake and Gujarat state authorities warned that most of the region's 949 villages needed to be "relocated" with 183 of them having suffered unimaginable damage.

Relief workers here said the urban centres were facing the brunt of the neglect.

"Although it was decided 60 percent of relief would go to rural areas and 40 percent to the towns, the latter continues to be at the disadvantage in all respect, especially in the matters of tents," said Navalsinh Jadeja, chief of Bhuj's district's rural administration.

Others said bureaucratic wrangles were holding up relief in Bhuj, where some 40 national and international relief organisations are working.

"We have a 200-million-rupee (4.3-million-dollar) rehabilitation project waiting for the state government's permission to launch," said Kunnath George of Kutch Vikas Trust.

  Category: Nature & Science
  Topics: India, Nature And Environment
Views: 934

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