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Residents in The Gujarat State of Western India

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    Spent the night outside Friday, too fearful to go back into their damaged homes after India’s most powerful earthquake in half a century. The 7.9 magnitude earthquake killed as many as 2,000, injured at least 2,000, and left 4,000 missing. Most of the missing are thought to be buried under rubble, and rescue workers dug frantically with bulldozers, shovels, sticks — even bare hands — trying to find them. The earthquake is a calamity of national magnitude, said Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who planned a trip to the area to survey damage. We have decided to meet the emergency on a war footing, he said. This is the time for people to rally around. The temblor shook high-rise towers 600 miles away in the capital, New Delhi. The quake could be felt as far as 1,200 miles away in Calcutta and coastal Bangladesh.

    The quake struck at 8:46 a.m. as many cities were beginning celebrations for India’s 51st Republic Day, which commemorates the adoption of the country’s constitution. ‘There is great panic’In Ahmadabad, 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. 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. Dispute over magnitudeOfficials at a command center said more than 300 were dead in Ahmadabad, more than 650 in Anjar, more than 500 in Bhuj, as well as 87 dead in Jamnagar, 147 dead in Rajkot, 55 dead in Suranagar, and 53 dead in Surat. The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, put the magnitude of the quake at 7.9, though Cabinet minister Pramod Mahajan insisted the quake measured 6.9.

    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. Officials said aftershocks could be expected to days or even weeks. Injured await treatmentThe epicenter of the quake was near the resort town of Bhuj, about 180 miles (290 km) southeast of Hyderabad, Pakistan. Under strong searchlights, firefighters, Indian army personnel and volunteers search for survivors in AhmedabadBhuj’s main hospital, run by the air force, was crammed with seriously injured people. Nearly 1,000 injured residents were camping outside the hospital waiting their turn, the Star television network reported.

    Rescue workers reported that more than 50 high-rise buildings had collapsed and many others had sustained heavy damage. Efforts were under way to rescue about 100 people believed trapped in one school. There were also reports of downed power lines, cracked gas mains, train derailments and damaged roadways. In Hyderabad, Pakistan, four people were killed when a building collapsed there, police said. Offers of help, aidThe Indian government said it was flying 10,000 tents, 10,000 tons of grain, 20 doctors and surgeons, communications and seismology experts to Gujarat. Soldiers help clear the rubble as they search for survivors and victimsVajpayee made no appeal for international aid, saying those needs were being assessed. U.S. President George 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 August 15, 1950, when an 8.5 magnitude temblor killed 1,538 people in northeastern Assam state. In 1819, a quake hit the same area killing between 1,500 and 2,000 people, officials at the U.S. Geological Survey said. Government officials say more than 11,000 people died in Friday’s devastating earthquake that leveled communities and turned cities into rubble. Desperate rescue workers climbed atop mountains of debris and screamed into the crevices Saturday, hoping for some sign of life from thousands trapped by the magnitude-7.9 earthquake. While rescuers worked and hope faded, stunned survivors slept in the open, panicking as more than 80 aftershocks rippled through the hardest-hit state, Gujarat. Most had no water, food or medicine. Others refused to eat, keeping a tearful vigil as emergency workers’ drills bored into concrete in search of their buried loved ones.

    Much of the damage was in Ahmedabad, a metropolitan area of 7.7 million people. Rescue workers reported that more than 50 high-rise buildings collapsed and many others sustained heavy damage. Toll could hit 15,000After returning from a tour of the epicenter, near the resort town of Bhuj, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes predicted the death toll could rise to 15,000. Fernandes said 90 percent of the buildings in the center of Bhuj had been damaged or destroyed, with a hospital and several schools flattened. Aided by soldiers, relief workers used everything from heavy cranes to bare hands to pick through the rubble of one school, where 450 children were believed to be entombed. Hope of finding survivors diminished with each passing hour. In Bhuj district, thousands of terrified people fled in cars, jeeps and on foot, carrying their belongings. Many had been walking since soon after the temblor struck.

    Buses and trucks were forced to stop before a cracked bridge on a dry river that connects the district with the rest of the state. We have been walking since morning. We are fleeing for our lives, said Harjivan Vyas, 37, a factory worker in Bhuj town. There is no drinking water, no food. All houses are destroyed. Residents voice angerIndian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called the disaster a national calamity, and promised relief efforts would be run as though the country were at war. Still, frustrated residents voiced their anger with the Rapid Action Forces sent out by the government, saying that not enough troops or equipment were being made available and that those who were there were not working fast enough.

    Elsewhere in Gujarat, thousands of people spent the night outside, afraid to go back into their damaged homes and shaken by the continuing aftershocks from the original earthquake. Many stood watching funeral pyres that illuminated the night sky across the region. Offers of aid, assistanceOffers of help poured in from other countries, including India’s longtime enemy, Pakistan. The neighboring country also was affected by the quake when a building in Hyderabad collapsed, killing at least four people. Britain was planning to send 60-70 rescue specialists and several dogs trained to search for people under rubble to assist the efforts of rescue workers. The British government promised $4.5 million in assistance, and Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a condolence message to Vajpayee.

    U.S. President George Bush offered condolences to the victims and said the United States is willing to provide assistance as needed and desired by the governments of both India and Pakistan. The European Union’s humanitarian office gave $3 million for relief in Gujarat state, in western India near the Pakistani border. The money was being used to provide shelter, blankets, safe drinking water and emergency health care. The EU said it was prepared to donate more, depending on needs. The International Red Cross was planning to airlift two hospitals to the affected zone. Taiwan, which in 1999 suffered a quake that killed thousands, readied a team of 64 rescuers. They would depart, together with four dogs, as soon as Taiwan gets permission from India, officials said. Quake hit on national holidayThe U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, set the magnitude of the quake at 7.9 and said aftershocks could be expected for days or even weeks.

    It struck at 8:46 a.m. Friday, the morning of the 51st Republic Day, an Indian national holiday in which many people were at home. People in the quake zone were using CNN’s online message boards to ask about relatives and relay their experiences. Help lines were also kept busy. The quake was the most powerful to strike India since August 15, 1950, when a magnitude-8.5 temblor killed 1,538 people in northeastern Assam state. The last major quake to hit the Gujarat area was in 1819, when a quake estimated at 8.3 magnitude killed about 2,500 people. It was the world’s second major quake of the year. On January 13, a magnitude-7.6 quake killed at least 700 people in El Salvador and left 10 percent of its population homeless.

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