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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 13:44 GMT
Relief worker finds fear and chaos
Man and woman pack up a truck
Many families are fleeing Bhuj to stay with relatives
By Oxfam aid worker Nicola Sutherland in Bhuj

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Bhuj is the number of people in the town. The place is bustling with aid workers, TV crews and rescue teams - everyone in fact, except the people to whom the town belongs.

Aid workers spray a decomposed body with disinfectant
There are risks of disease from decomposing bodies
In the days following the earthquake they gathered up whatever they could from the piles of rubble they once called home and went.

And they are still going. Cars, vans and donkey-drawn carriages piled high with everything from wardrobes and chairs, to cooking pots and clothes pass through the centre of the town as people leave to stay with friends and relatives elsewhere.


He pointed to the arm and upper half of a woman's body that could be seen among the crushed concrete slabs

The only ones left are those who are too poor to leave or simply have nowhere else to go.

They stay in makeshift camps around the city; camps that have been set up with help from groups across India who came with medical supplies shelter and food.

Others, whose houses survived the quake, are too afraid to go back to them.

Total devastation

In the worst hit areas of Bhuj there is not a building left standing. Many parts of the old town are completely inaccessible as the narrow lanes are filled with rubble and debris.

The putrid smell hits you when you arrive and is overwhelming. As we walked through Bhuj people pointed to the places where their homes had once been, where a temple or market had once stood.

Woman at food queue
Women and elderly people often struggle to get food
A young boy approached the photographer I was with and showed him where his family's apartment had collapsed. Some of his family had survived and were living in a camp.

He came back every day to look at the ruins, because his mother was still there. He pointed to the arm and upper half of a woman's body that could be seen among the crushed concrete slabs.

Amid the death and debris there are signs of everyday life. There are shoes, coat-hangers, clothes, and children's toys - all a reminder that just minutes before the quake, life was going on as normal.

Some of the damaged buildings that are still standing look like giant dolls' houses with the fronts taken off.

Outside walls have collapsed, but often three walls of a room are still standing. Wardrobes, sofas and beds are still in place and sometimes even family photographs hang on the wall.


Some of the damaged buildings that are still standing look like giant dolls' houses with the fronts taken off

Aid is getting through but in some cases it is a distressing sight.

A lorry stops, people shout to others that it has arrived and chaos follows. The younger and fitter ones, generally young men and boys, push to the front and older people and women right at the back get whatever is left.

The aid has not been dealt out in any assessed manner, which causes me to wonder about the more vulnerable groups and their levels of access to this kind of 'survival of the fittest' way of aid delivery.

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See also:

29 Jan 01 | South Asia
Prosperous Gujarat laid low
28 Jan 01 | South Asia
India seeks $1.5bn loan
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