Burial mounds yield few survivors: Local relief agencies are flooded with aid but India's refusal of Western rescue experts has cost more lives

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The Independent Online
ONLY four survivors have been found in the 36 hours since army rescue teams began clearing away the debris from last Thursday's massive earthquake in central India, which officials say has left around 22,000 dead. Estimates had been put at 30,000.

In New Delhi, foreign relief experts said that if India had not initially refused offers from Western countries with expertise in locating trapped earthquake victims by using sniffer dogs, many more survivors might been rescued.

In the Maharashtra districts of Latur and Osmanabad, worst hit, relief teams so far have pulled more than 9,800 bodies from villages pounded into burial mounds of mud and stone. But the number of people found alive, trapped under collapsed houses, has been depressingly few. Hopes of finding more people buried alive by the earthquake grow dimmer.

Army teams are now bulldozing the demolished villages. An army spokesman said the entombed corpses were decomposing rapidly in the heat and rain. Fears are growing that unless bodies are burnt swiftly, epidemics such as cholera and typhoid might spread among the estimated 150,000 homeless refugees. In Sastur, where more than half of the village's 10,000 people were crushed to death, a three-year-old boy was rescued from the rubble on Friday. He had been trapped beside his mother's corpse for over 24 hours.

The only other reported survivors were three brothers, aged between 10 and 14, buried alive in Holi, a village where every house was destroyed and thousands perished. Authorities attributed the low survival rate to the building materials used in the villages and the fact that rescue teams took 30 hours to reach the stricken villages.

The Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, has made an appeal for donations. Indians have flooded relief organisations with food and blankets. On Saturday, Indian air force helicopters delivered over 45 tons of food and medicine to the hardest-hit villages. Volunteers and sightseers swarmed to the destroyed villages, slowing relief efforts.

The first shipment of Western aid - dollars 3m ( pounds 2m) in tents and medical supplies from the United States - reached Bombay yesterday afternoon. Emergency aid from Britain, the Netherlands and France is on its way.

(Photograph omitted)