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Saturday, 27 January, 2001, 18:20 GMT
Anguish amid the rubble
Wreckage in Ahmedabad
Rescuers pick through a shattered apartment block
By Jill McGivering in Ahmedabad

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the city of Ahmedabad was an uneasy mixture of extremes.

Many streets seemed almost normal. Houses were not visibly damaged, cars jostled for space on the roads, and roadside passersby gazed out at us from roadside tea stalls.

But turn a corner and you'd be plunged into a very different world - a world of rubble and collapsed homes, of frantic digging and anxious hopelessness.

We caught glimpes of wallpaper, or a picture still hanging from a piece of surviving wall

We walked down a narrow side street where a crowd of neighbours, onlookers and journalists had gathered.

In the row of apartment blocks, all about five stories high, there was a sudden gaping hole. The front of the building had been torn off, and had crumbled into a vast heap of slabs of concrete.

Traces of life

Balconies dangled sideways on wire cables, hanging from the outer walls, flats to which they had been attached had unrecognisably folded beneath them.

The debris seemed too vast and compact to be moved

We caught glimpes of wallpaper, or a picture still hanging from a piece of surviving wall.

A large mechanical digger was shunted backwards and forwards pecking at the debris which seemed too vast and compact to be moved.

The army officer at the scene gave me a quick briefing. He had come here because one of his young cadets was trapped in the building behind, which had also fallen away to rubble.

He pointed out her friends to me, teenagers in blue cadet uniforms and berets, looking on bewildered from the back of the crowd.

''They've already brought out one body,'' he said, pointing to a figure by the roadside, draped with a blanket.

An 18-year-old boy and an elderly man were still to be recovered. They didn't hold out much hope.

Residents' anger

When we started to interview the officer, several men intervened, shouting at us angrily and berating us for talking to him.

Why weren't the authorities helping them, they said, when they desperately needed so much

Afterwards we let one of them have his say. He was a resident here, he said, who had been in the building when the earthquake struck, but managed to get out in time.

He was brimming over with grief and anger. ''The authorities have done nothing,'' he said.

They, the residents, had been struggling to dig into the rubble all day and night - the army had only come along recenty when it was too late.

Why weren't the authorities helping them, they said, when they desperately needed so much?

Some in the crowd seemed to be in vigorous agreement, others told me quietly later that this man was overwrought.

''Don't take him too seriously,'' they said.

'Miracles can happen'

At the back of the site we were led over heaps of debris which used to be an adjoining block.

The young cadets were using pickaxes and shovels in the long slow task of digging for their friend.

Earlier, people had heard her calling out for help, but recently there had been only silence.

As we watched there was a sudden flurry of activity. Someone prised a dusty suitcase out of the concrete and handed it out.

The cadets who seemed too young to be digging for bodies seemed optimistic. The officer in charge was far less so.

"Miracles can happen,'' he said quietly, "but I think that's what it might take to find her alive.''

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27 Jan 01 | South Asia
Quake victims' massive needs
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