Army fights floods to reach quake victims

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AS ARMY rescue teams begin clearing away the mud and stones which used to be a score of central Indian villages, officials fear that as many as 30,000 people could have died in last Thursday's earthquake.

Battling heavy rains that bogged down relief efforts, army teams yesterday reached the remotest villages hit by the quake. The destruction was worse than they had imagined. Many villages had only two or three houses left standing; the rest had been pulverised. Houses became burial mounds, entombing thousands of people while they slept.

Apocalyptic thunderstorms lashed the earthquake-shattered region yesterday, dousing the flames of the many cremation bonfires built to burn the Hindu dead. So far, 10,000 bodies have been recovered. At least 11,000 people are missing.

The late monsoon rains, which prevented the prime minister, Narasimha Rao, from visiting the area, also washed out many roads. More than 18,000 homes had been destroyed, and tens of thousands of refugees are in tents in the countryside. Another earthquake hit yesterday, measuring 6 on the Richter Scale (compared with 6.4 last Thursday), provoking panic among many people in eastern Maharashtra. It caused no damage, according to local authorities.

The Indian government overcame its initial reluctance to accept foreign help and is now welcoming international aid. In Britain, the Oxfam charity launched an appeal to raise pounds 200,000 for earthquake relief. Britain's large Asian community is also gathering donations. Funds and humanitarian aid were offered to India by the United States, Japan, Australia and France. In Maharashtra, seven days of mourning was declared.

Lal Krishna Advani, leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, who toured some of the most badly- damaged villages last Friday, accused Mr Rao's government of a slow response in sending emergency help to the victims.

United in grief, page 15