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Saturday, 27 January, 2001, 12:47 GMT
India struggles to cope
Orissa was devastated by a huge cyclone in 1999
The Indian authorities are used to coping with natural disasters - but the sheer scale of the earthquake in Gujarat makes it a huge challenge.

We've had no help from the government at all ... all the rescue effort here is being done by local people.

Earthquake survivor in Ahmedabad
In the first 24 hours, most of the rescue efforts were led by volunteers, who expressed frustration over the lack of back-up and lifting equipment from the authorities.

Although rescue operations have now got going in the larger towns, relief appears to be slower reaching more outlying areas.

In the town of Pachchao, close to the epicentre, residents complained that they had had no food, water or medicine for 24 hours.

Aid agencies point out that the first 24 to 48 hours are vital in the search for survivors.

Military operation

The proximity of the area to the highly-sensitive border means the armed forces are taking the lead.

Indian soldier
The army is likely to play a key role
However, even they appear overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster.

One Indian TV network reported that the air force hospital in the town of Bhuj - near the quake's epicentre - was overflowing with seriously-injured people.

Nearly 1,000 people were also camped outside waiting for treatment.

And in Ahmedabad, the state capital, people are having to be treated on the streets because the hospitals are full.

Learning lessons

Cyclones, droughts and earthquakes have all tested India's capabilities in recent years - with varying results.

Building in earthquake
Many people are still feared trapped

In some states, co-ordination between the local government and various NGOs has improved.

"The Indians are quite capable of dealing with a major event like this in terms of mobilising logistically," according to John Twigg of the Hazard Research Centre in London.

He says that after a severe cyclone hit Gujarat in 1998, the state government and various relief bodies decided to improve co-operation.

Gujarat is one of India's more prosperous states - less marginalised than Orissa, hit by a devastating cyclone in 1999.

Offers of help from abroad have also started pouring in.

Nevertheless, the relief operation - apparently slow to get going - will have to move quickly into top gear to cope with a disaster of this magnitude.

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See also:

26 Jan 01 | South Asia
Hundreds killed in India quake
31 Mar 99 | South Asia
Quake death toll over 100
26 Jan 01 | World
Deadly history of earthquakes
26 Nov 99 | South Asia
Cyclone toll 'may never be known'
12 Nov 99 | South Asia
Analysis: Orissa's history of neglect
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