BHACHAU, India, Jan. 31 (AP) -- Rescue workers pulled out more survivors Wednesday just as bulldozers began breaking down the walls of wrecked buildings--raising fears that people buried alive would be killed not by an earthquake but by machines and explosives. The confirmed death count soared to 12,000.

State officials were convinced another 13,000 dead are buried in the rubble. Much of the relief effort has turned to caring for the living, with volunteers setting down stakes for a massive field hospital. At least 29,000 people were injured in the 7.9-magnitude quake that hit the western state of Gujarat on Friday.

Haren Pandya, the Gujarat home minister, said his toll of 25,000 dead was based on reports gathered from government agencies of bodies recovered, people reported missing and the estimated number still lying under debris. A final, accurate count may never be clear - in the chaos, some bodies will not be recovered and government officials will not be informed of others cremated in remote areas.

Some estimates of the eventual number of dead have been as high as 100,000.

Heavy construction equipment and explosives experts have been brought in to clear debris as rescuers give up hope of finding any more survivors. Many experts say few people could survive more than 100 hours buried in the rubble--a mark that was crossed Tuesday afternoon.

Still, rescuers working in rubble, dust and the stench of decaying flesh found a few survivors Wednesday.

Just as bulldozers smashed into the wall of a damaged three-story apartment building in Bhachau, Russian rescuers heard a woman screaming. The 71-member Russian team stopped the bulldozers and began searching for the woman. They saw her hand grabbing at them from under a flattened concrete wall.

One Russian rescuer held her hand until the masonry was moved, then pulled Kuntal Thakkar, 22, to safety. She was rushed to a hospital; then rescuers saved her husband.

A block away, the same Russian team had rescued another man earlier in the day.

In Bhuj, the town closest to the epicenter, an army team rescued a 12-year-old girl named Prianka. A demolition team hammering its way through a destroyed apartment block in Ahmedabad discovered 55-year-old Joytosna Gandhi still alive, next to the body of her teen-age son.

A search team based in Wales headed for India Wednesday, hopeful of still finding survivors.

"In other disasters we've been to we've always found this to be the case, that people have come out days and days after most teams have given up and gone home. So we feel that there is so much that hasn't been searched, we should give it a go," Russ Vaughan, leader of the eight-man team, said at Heathrow airport.

The international response included volunteers from Germany, Finland, Belgium, Israel, India and the United States who put up tent poles Wednesday for what will soon be the largest field hospital the Red Cross has ever run.

The hospital will have 310 beds, four operating rooms, a maternity ward and the capacity to treat up to 2,000 walk-in patients a day in Bhuj. It compares to a small hospital in a western country, and will be staffed by three dozen doctors and nurses from national Red Cross societies around the world.

Irma Lubbinge, an information officer for the International Federation of the Red Cross, said the first patients will be admitted Thursday. The hospital was flown in on four cargo planes Tuesday in crates labeled "Mother/Child Maternity Module" or "Doctor's Office Module."

Barbara Westig, an American Red Cross operations officer, collected the white tent emblazoned with a red cross where she will live while working at the hospital. Westig, a 29-year-old from Olympia, Washington, said she would stay in India "as long as it takes."

As the quake effort switched from rescue to relief, India faced expanding needs for food, clothing and shelter for survivors. The national government feared 600,000 people may have been left homeless by the disaster.

India, which prides itself on its self-sufficiency, has had to reach out as rarely before for foreign help. A growing list of countries and organizations were responding.

A U.N. World Food Program flight with 41 tons of cargo, including health kits and generators, left for India on Tuesday, and another flight was to leave on Thursday, a U.N. official said in New York. Pakistan, with whom India has fought three wars, sent a military plane loaded with tents and blankets Wednesday; it was the second Pakistani relief flight in two days.

India's Meteorological Department reported at least five aftershocks in the early hours of Wednesday, the strongest of them at preliminary magnitude of 4.5. There were no reports of new injuries or damage, but the aftershocks added to the fears of many survivors that further quakes could topple the buildings still standing. Special trains for people fleeing the region were scheduled to depart Ahmedabad on Wednesday afternoon.

Much of the rescue work was being carried out by some of the more than 20,000 troops India sent in to respond to the disaster. The national government pledged money to help Gujarat recover, and ordinary Indians were also digging into their pockets to contribute.

But aid was not reaching everyone, leading to frustration and anger.

"People here have been very good, bringing food and water," said Sutar Danji, a 30-year-old carpenter who has lived at a dusty campsite in Anjar since the earthquake obliterated his home. "But from the government, nothing.

"We are living on the roadside, and we are waiting for the government to give us new houses," he added. "But how long will we wait?"

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad