Powerful Earthquake (7.9)Rocks India, Pakistan

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Powerful Earthquake Rocks India, Pakistan

Death Toll Continues To Rise AHMEDABAD, India , 3:50 p.m. EST January 26, 2001 -- The most powerful earthquake to strike India in a half century rocked the subcontinent Friday, killing more than 2,000 people, injuring 3,000 and leaving survivors spending the night by campfires near the rubble of their homes.

The 7.9 magnitude temblor in western Gujarat state, close to the border with Pakistan, shook high-rise towers 600 miles away in the capital, New Delhi. The quake was also felt in the mountains of Nepal, some 1,000 miles from the epicenter, and in coastal Bangladesh, a distance of about 1,200 miles. "The earthquake is a calamity of national magnitude," Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said. "We have decided to meet the emergency on a war footing. This is the time for people to rally around."

The quake struck at 8:50 a.m. as many cities were beginning celebrations for India's 51st Republic Day, which commemorates the adoption of the country's constitution.

In Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital and a sprawling city of 4.5 million, helmeted rescue workers used iron rods to pry slabs of concrete and metal, searching for survivors. Women wept and rocked back and forth, watching as the few available bulldozers and cranes pushed through the piles of stone that once had housed families and shops.

Beds, children's toys and clothes lay abandoned in the debris, lamp posts and electric pylons were twisted and many buildings were left leaning precariously.

After night fell, with temperatures at 55 degrees, survivors spread blankets and huddled around campfires.

"There is a great panic among the people and they have spilled out onto the streets," said Haren Panya, home minister of Gujarat. Because of the aftershocks, "We have asked people to move out of old buildings."

The 2,063 deaths in India were all recorded in Gujarat state -- including hundreds in Ahmedabad -- where buildings swayed for more than two minutes, said P. I. Kanpuri, a police officer at the emergency state control room in Gandhinagar, the new Gujarat state capital. Ten people died in Pakistan when two houses collapsed.

Authorities in India said 3,200 people were injured.

No damage or injuries were reported in the rest of India, although many people said they felt dizzy because of the earthquake's lengthy rolling movement.

The epicenter was near Bhuj, a desert town of 150,000 people in Gujarat. Ninety percent of the houses in Bhuj were damaged, said Cabinet minister Pramod Mahajan. Kanpuri said 1,400 people in Bhuj district had been killed.

The quake did no damage to the two 220-megawatt nuclear plants in Gujarat, authorities said. But gas pipelines, most power supply stations, phone lines and water service were knocked out across the arid state, which is prone to drought.

In Ahmedabad, a center of India's textile industry, as many as 50 multistory buildings crumbled. Hundreds of people besieged the fire station asking for help to dig out their relatives, said fire chief Rajesh Bhat.

"This is an emergency. We are facing a riotous crowd," Bhat said. "A fear psychosis is developing in the city. People have fled their homes and are taking refuge in open fields."

Corpses were piled up on the verandah of the N.S. Hospital, while patients overflowing into the hallways wailed and screamed with broken limbs and bleeding wounds. Press Trust of India reported 70 people died awaiting treatment.

Bruised and bleeding bodies were laid in rows, covered with blankets as relatives sat by mourning.

The Indian government said it was flying 10,000 tents, 10,000 tons of grain, 20 doctors and surgeons, communications and seismology experts to Gujarat. Vajpayee sent his home minister, Lal K. Advani, who said the death toll "could be 1,000 or more."

Vajpayee made no appeal for international aid, saying those needs were being assessed.

President Bush, the United Nations, and Pakistan's army ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf sent condolences. Bush said the United States is willing to provide assistance if needed, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance announced that it will send a five-member earthquake assessment team to India on Sunday.

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

Mahajan insisted that Friday's quake measured 6.9, according to a preliminary figure given by the Indian Meteorological Institute. However, the U.S. Geological Survey, taking an average of seismograph measurements from around the world, said it was 7.9.

There were least 83 aftershocks, several measuring up to 5.6 magnitude, in the 10 hours after the quake, said the seismological department at the Bhaba Atomic Center. An apparent aftershock also hit Bangladesh, where hundreds of panicked residents flooded into the streets of Satkhira, on the border with India.

In Ahmedabad, about 70 children and some teachers were feared dead in the debris of their school building, while 19 engineering students were believed trapped in a collapsed college elsewhere in the city.

Baijubahi, an Ahmedabad man who uses only one name, said his wife was killed in the earthquake and six members of his family were still trapped in their building.

"The police are trying to persuade me to go to the hospital for my wife's post-mortem," he said. "I'm more concerned about the rest, who could have survived."

In the town of Surat -- where police reported at least 31 dead -- three people were killed in a stampede at a diamond factory. When the quake hit, diamond workers in the three-story factory crowded into a narrow stairwell and tried to push their way to the only exit, said police official Vineet Gupta.

Elsewhere in the country, the quake caused high-rise buildings to sway from New Delhi in the north, to Bombay in the west, and Madras in the south and Calcutta in the east, more than a thousand miles from the epicenter.

There was panic in the crowd in Pondicherry, on the southeastern coast, watching a Republic Day parade. People fled from the parade, but were quickly calmed by loudspeaker announcements.

In the desert state of Rajasthan, the eighth-century Jaisalmer Fort, a popular tourist attraction, was damaged. Some of the distinctive yellow stones supporting the gate fell and the walls developed cracks.

Millions of Hindus at the world's largest religious gathering in Allahabad, in Uttar Pradesh, more than 1,000 miles east of the epicenter, felt the ground sway under them. No injuries were reported.

India's financial capital, Bombay, was closed for the holiday. People were sleeping late or having breakfast when the skyscrapers began swaying. They rushed out onto the streets in their nightgowns as dogs barked and birds screeched.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 26, 2001


Monster quake kills 4,000 By Anil Pathak, Leena Misra and Agencies

AHMEDABAD: At least 4,000 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured when a devastating earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale shook the Indian subcontinent, flattening Gujarat.

Officials said Bhuj, nearest to the epicentre of the quake, alone accounted for 3,000 deaths, while 700 were killed in Ahmedabad. About 300 deaths were reported from other parts of the state.

According to Harsh K Gupta, director of the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in Hyderabad, the quake measured a shade under 8 on the Richter Scale. This was not only higher than the quake's intensity, which was initially put at 6.9, but made it one of the most powerful quakes to have struck the country. The figure was arrived at after collating figures of the intensity of the quake measured by other centres in the world.

Meteorological Department sources in Pune said the epicentre of the quake lay 20 km northeast of Bhuj in Gujarat. The quake was felt from Kashmir to Kanyakumari as well as Kolkata. It was also recorded in Sindh province of Pakistan and Nepal.

The deaths were mostly the result of building collapse. Most of the victims were women and children who were indoors when the quake struck. As a result of the quake, power and communication lines were snapped, roads caved in and railway property was damaged at several places in the state.

Army, Navy and paramilitary personnel joined the local authorities in rescue and relief operations. Medical teams have been rushed from neighbouring states, including Rajasthan as well as New Delhi, and the Centre is making all arrangements to provide assistance for relief and rescue operations.

In Bhuj, most of the people were victims of house collapse. Bhuj was completely cut off from the rest of the state as communication links snapped. The other badly affected districts were Rajkot, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Surat. Mehsana district, close to the state capital, Gandhinagar, was another badly affected city with Vadnagar and Visnagar being badly damaged. Around 70 buildings collapsed like a pack of cards in Ahmedabad, especially in the Maninagar, Satellite and Ambawadi areas. Maninagar in south Ahmedabad appeared to be the worst-hit with at least 15 high-rise buildings reported to have collapsed. Screams rent the air as people were caught unawares and their homes collapsed. Over 10 of these buildings caved in up to the second floor. There was a mass exodus from the cities as people fled to safer areas.

Ironically, the government machinery, which was busy with the Republic Day celebrations, took some time to come to the aid of the tragedy-affected people. An hour after the quake struck, police jeeps were seen patrolling but policemen appeared to be quite aghast at the devastating sites, compelling spectators to take over and spring to the rescue of those trapped in the debris. At some places, even as bulldozers arrived, they could not be pressed into service because of the precarious positioning of the buildings lest there be more damage. The legendary 15th century monument, the Shaking minarets, located in Gomtipur, are reported to have collapsed.

People were caught in a frenzy and became panic-stricken as cracks began to appear in the walls of the older structures and vessels rattled from the racks and fell on to the floor. January 26 being an auspicious wedding date, several marriage parties that were out with the bridegrooms and decorated processions were abandoned in haste. In Maninagar, in the Rudralaya apartment, 25 people were feared trapped in a four-storeyed building which collapsed. People who had come for a wedding were trapped in the building, but the bridegroom managed to escape.

The walled city area was also badly affected with many dilapidated buildings having collapsed and many others caving in. While bridges survived the catastrophe, the Nehru bridge and some other bridges developed cracks.

In Delhi people felt dizzy from the swaying. Residents of Mumbai rushed out and those in high-rise buildings held on to doorways as they watched their pictures and cupboards sway.

It was the same in Chennai and Pondicherry, further to the south, where people began fleeing in panic from a Republic Day parade until officials on loudspeakers calmed them.

Tremors were also felt in Vijayawada and surrounding areas. There was no report of any damage.

The quake hit just before the Republic Day parade in Delhi, where thousands of police and security personnel were on alert against a possible terrorist attack. No panic was reported at the parade, attended by top government and military leaders, and foreign guests, including Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

In Rajasthan, the quake damaged some portions of a historic fort and a haveli in Jaisalmer and caused cracks in walls in Jaipur. However, no casualty has been reported from anywhere in the state.

The back portion of historic Salam Singh Ki Haveli cracked and fell on the roof of a neighbouring house.

Two slabs of the upper portion of `Hawa Pol' inside the historic Golden Fort in Jaisalmer also fell on the ground, creating havoc among the people residing the colony inside the fort.

Police in Mumbai said the tremors were more intense in areas bordering the Arabian Sea.

The earthquake also shook eastern parts of India, with mild tremors being felt in and around Kolkata.

Millions of pilgrims sleeping in tents at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, felt the ground sway beneath them, but there was no panic.

In Pakistan, a child and an adult died when their two-storey home in Sindh city of Hyderabad collapsed from the early morning tremor, emergency rescue workers said. They were sifting through the rubble of the cement-block home searching for more people. It wasn't immediately clear whether other members of the family were missing.

Reports from Kathmandu said the tremors caused panic among residents in the Nepalese capital as they fled their homes, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

This is the eighth time that the country recorded tremors measuring eight or above on the Richter Scale in the past 182 years. The highest intensity of 8.7 was recorded on June 12, 1897 in the Shillong plateau in the north-east. The next biggest to strike was on August 15, 1950 measuring 8.5 on the Arunachal Pradesh-China border, followed by one on January 15, 1934 on the Bihar-Nepal border, measuring 8.3 on the Richter Scale and another measuring 8.1 on June 26, 1941 in the Andaman Islands. Two quakes measuring 8 were recorded on June 16, 1819 in the Kutch area of Gujarat and in Kangra in Himachal Pradesh on April 4, 1905.

Friday's quake was a result of tectonic activity along a line of weakness in the earth's crust passing through the region known as the Narmada Son Lineament (NSL), Gupta said. The NSL has been listed as one of the most seismically active zones in the Global Seismic Hazard Programme - a worldwide effort to delineate possible quake zones and to understand them, a programme coordinated by the NGRI


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 26, 2001.

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