Beliefnet

BHUJ, India, Jan. 29 (AP) -- Kusumben Myacha said Monday that with no food or water she lived on hope and faith in her Hindu gods as she lay pinned under a massive chunk of cement for three days.

She was rescued Sunday, surviving the longest period that anyone is known to have remained buried alive since last Friday's devastating earthquake in western India.

But hopes faded Monday of finding more people alive after three wintry nights. By official count, the earthquake killed 6,181 people in the industrial state of Gujarat, whose chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, predicted the toll could go as high as 20,000.

Clearly overwhelmed by the disaster, the government said Sunday it would ask for a $1.5 billion loan from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for reconstruction work. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was scheduled to visit the quake-hit sites later Monday.

The 7.9 magnitude quake flattened dozens of cities, towns and villages in Gujarat state, including Bhuj, which was closest to the epicenter.

Virtually every building in this town of 150,000 people has either collapsed or cracked. Rescue workers, led by thousands of soldiers, are hampered by a lack of equipment, such as cranes and bulldozers. Many units do not even have generators, making night rescue work impossible in the absence of light.

Soldiers begin work at first light and stop when the sun goes down.

Myacha, who is in her mid-30s, was rescued Sunday evening, just as light began to fade, from a mountain of concrete and bricks that was once the 40-apartment Gokul Towers.

She wasn't even the one that rescuers were looking for, having been led by relatives of her neighbor, Meeraben.

"Can you hear me? Meeraben, are you there?" called an army rescue worker, bending low into an eight-inch (20-centimeter) opening in the debris of the building that was once seven stories high.

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

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

"Kusumben is alive...Kusumben is alive," shouted a 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.

"Don't worry Kusumben, we're going to get you out," one soldier said. And they did.

Lying on a bed in a makeshift army camp-hospital on Monday, Myacha recounted her tale of survival.

She was in the bedroom of her first floor apartment, and her husband was out in the courtyard when the quake struck. Their children were in the living room and were able to flee before the building collapsed. Her husband and children escaped.

But a cement column fell next to Myacha, and a slab of concrete on top of it. She was trapped in the narrow space formed by the two pieces of masonry.

"For three days, I lay in that position with nothing to eat or drink," she told The Associated Press. "When the quake started I thought I was dead."

Throughout her ordeal she could hear voices. She screamed, but it was noisy outside and no one heard her. She slipped in and out of sleep.

During her waking hours she recited verses from "Hanuman Chalisa," a holy book dedicated to Hindu monkey god Hanuman, revered for his bravery and loyalty. Hindus, who are a majority in Gujarat state and the rest of India, recite its lines to ward off danger.

In the stillness of the second night, on Saturday, someone heard her. Rescue work started digging on Sunday morning and it took the whole day to bring her out.

Residents bemoaned the lack of equipment that would have allowed round-the-clock rescue.

"This is emergency duty. They should work round the clock," said Pradeep Sheth, 46, who was rescued from under the rubble after seven hours. His wife, mother and two daughters were still trapped in the debris.

"Look at the soldiers. They have no equipment, no cutter. How will they clear the slabs? With their bare hands? There are live people trapped inside. We can hear their sounds," said Sheth, a printer.

"Please write and tell the world that there is nobody to help us. We have only ourselves to turn to," said Ramiklal Jaisa, a 72-year-old man who has been camping along with 5,000 others in a field since Friday.

People huddled in open fields, wrapped in blankets. Besides their homes, families have lost their possessions and savings--usually gold jewelry stored in homes.

Some organized free kitchens, cooking rice, vegetables and lentils in huge vats.

As bodies began to pile up, round-the-clock cremations took place. "We have cremated 306 bodies since Friday," said Rasik Thacker, Bhuj's former mayor, who has taken charge of the Loana cemetery. Volunteers were helping him keep the funeral pyres going.

Prime Minister Vajpayee has appealed for Indians to contribute, "no matter how small the amount," to help earthquake victims. He said international and federal emergency funds would not be enough, and noted that Indians had helped the government meet the challenge of previous natural disasters.

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