Death toll in Indian earthquake expected to reach 15,000

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The Independent Online

The horrific scale of the earthquake that devastated northwestern India became clearer yesterday when officials said they expected the death toll to reach at least 15,000.

The horrific scale of the earthquake that devastated northwestern India became clearer yesterday when officials said they expected the death toll to reach at least 15,000.

Friday's quake - measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale - laid waste towns and cities throughout Gujarat state. As darkness fell, panic gripped Bhuj and survivors struggled to flee the city of 150,000, just 12 miles from the quake's epicentre. Bhuj's old city was a mass of flattened rubble, and angry scenes erupted at petrol stations in the outlying districts as residents queued for fuel to transport them out.

"I have come to the conclusion we will cross 13,000 [casualties] in Kutch alone and elsewhere maybe 2,000 more," said Narendra Modi, secretary-general of the ruling state Bharatiya Janata party.

In London, a leader of the Bhuj temple in Woolwich said that the number of British citizens caught up in the quake was being hugely underestimated. "We want to make the Government realise there are thousands rather than hundreds of British citizens not accounted for, as many go there regularly on holiday or to visit relatives," said Bharat Patel.

In Anjar, a remote town also near the epicentre, 350 schoolchildren were believed to have died under debris that toppled into the alley where they were marching in a parade. And in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat, nearly 30 high-school pupils died when their four-storey building sandwiched into a single floor. Rescue workers said most of the youngsters, aged between 16 and 18, were caught in the stairwell as they tried to escape.

Amid the constant buzz of diggers, cranes and drills, mothers waited desperately, hoping their children would still be pulled out alive. "I just want my son. I just want my son," the mother of Mehul Roop Singh Varma repeated. Minutes later the body of her son was pulled from the rubble.

H P S Buller, deputy commandant of the Rapid Action Force in Ahmedabad, said 21 children and three teachers has been pulled out dead. Four children were saved.

Governments around the world sent rescue teams, equipment and financial help. Britain sent a 69-member rescue team to Ahmedabad. "What they don't have a shortage of in India is people to help dig, but they do need our special equipment," said Barry Sessions, who was helping to organise the British rescuers.

The British government promised £3m in assistance, and the European Union's humanitarian office gave £2m. Switzerland sent a rescue team, search dogs and aid supplies, and the German government said it was sending a team to help in the search for survivors.

The Foreign Office yesterday issued helplines for relatives desperate for information: 020 7008 0000 and 020 7839 1010.

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