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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 15:19 GMT
Web helps find quake survivors

By BBC News Online's Kate Goldberg

The internet is offering a glimmer of hope for people trying to get in touch with friends and relatives after the devastating earthquake in Gujarat.

A Gujarati man living in Canada heard from his sister, Zarin, after posting a message on BBC News Online's Talking Point page.

It really helped me to stay calm... Otherwise, sitting here so many miles across the world, you have nothing but to worry

Sanjay Dubey
Rafiq Tejam said that as a result of his message he received over 70 e-mails from people around the world.

Some had been in contact with his sister, and wrote back to say she was safe and helping with the rescue effort. She subsequently managed to call him herself.

"I submitted my request to your website and from there it ended up in local newspapers in India! I have no idea how that happened," Rafiq told BBC News Online.

With tens of thousands of people still unaccounted for, concerned relatives are turning to mainstream news sites, in addition to traditional media and spontaneous internet message boards in the search for their loved ones.

There is a huge Gujarati diaspora around the world, and many rely on the internet to keep in touch with events at home.

Another BBC user, Punit Pajara, created an e-mail group with the addresses of all the people who had written to BBC's Talking Point.

One member of the group, Sanjay Dubey in the US, wrote: "It really helped me to stay calm as I was at least updated with news constantly.

"Otherwise, sitting here so many miles across the world, you have nothing but to worry."

Local effort to find missing

Internet use has been soaring in India in the last two years, but the vast majority of the population are still not computer literate, and in the ruins of Gujarat, even a telephone line is a luxury.

ISPs here have offered free Internet connections, computer classes have organised student volunteers. Everyone is being wonderfully supportive

Rajiv K. Badlan
However, internet service providers (ISPs), cybercafes and NGOs are coming together in a massive voluntary effort to register the hundreds of thousands of homeless people on a local website, Indiaquakehelp, based in Ahmedabad.

Hundreds of volunteers are going to relief camps, hospitals, bus depots, and railway stations all over Gujarat and filling out ordinary forms.

The data will then be entered onto the website by volunteers, who will teach others at computer classes.

Two ISPs, Icenet and e-com, have offered free internet connections.

More than 750 cybercafes across India have agreed to do internet searches for people looking for their missing relatives who are not internet-literate.

"We'd never have been able to do this on our own. Lots of people are chipping in," said Rajiv K. Badlani of Ebizchem which runs Indiaquakehelp.

"Everyone we've spoken to has been unstintingly forthcoming. ISPs here have offered free Internet connections, computer classes have organised student volunteers and data-entry machines, publishing houses have printed out the forms; everyone is being wonderfully supportive."

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29 Jan 01 | South Asia
Desperate search for quake survivors
28 Jan 01 | South Asia
India seeks $1.5bn loan
27 Jan 01 | South Asia
Rival Pakistan offers India help
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