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India toll: Officials fear `not less than 20,000' This article was published in the
Toronto Star on Jan 29, 2001

 BHUJ, India (AP-CP) - Exhausted searchers using everything from sophisticated rock-cutting tools to their bare hands clawed through rubble yesterday, hoping to find survivors buried by the massive earthquake feared to have killed 20,000 in western India.

More than 7,000 bodies have been dragged from the ruins of collapsed buildings since Friday's quake, but the death toll is expected to go much higher.

Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes said yesterday he anticipated ``not less than 20,000 casualties,'' while a top rescue official suggested there could be up to 30,000 dead in one town alone.

As India's prime minister appealed for help, frantic rescuers and sniffer dogs uncovered a few signs of life yesterday amid the destruction in Gujarat, the western Indian state that took the brunt of the blow.

In Anjar, 50 kilometres southeast of the hardest-hit town, Bhuj, a 3-year-old girl was unearthed from the rubble alive.

"She was chanting some Arabic verses,'' said a soldier who helped rescue the toddler. "She was totally unscathed.''

Across town, sniffer dogs located another sign of life in a heap of rubble. After three hours of digging, soldiers found a man, only his face visible under crumpled masonry. Unable to reach him, rescuers released water from a plastic pouch, drop by drop, into his mouth

Chipping slowly at the unstable mound, soldiers removed pieces of debris one by one. Three hours later, the man was free, and a cheer went up in the crowd. Too weak to speak, too exhausted to smile, the man, identified only as Maganbhai, was carried away.

In Bhuj, a desert town just kilometres from the quake's epicentre, workers dug for 30 hours and shouted with joy when they found a baby and her mother alive in the rubble.

The digging to free the pair took hours more. When it was finished, the baby girl, 18-month-old Namrata, was still alive, her pulse weak. Rescuers rushed her to the hospital in an ambulance.

But the mother, Badrasen Aur, had died in the concrete heap.

Next door, a woman named Das had spent two days trapped in bed with the corpses of her husband and young daughter.

Rescuers talked to her and gave her water as they struggled to widen the hole they had made in the wall of her sunken bedroom.

Authorities will know by today if any more people are alive under the rubble, Gujarat State Home Minister Haren Pandya said. The emphasis will then switch to clearing the rubble and removing the bodies.

Philip Maher of World Vision Canada was in Ahmedabad, India, yesterday, about 300 kilometres from the epicentre of the quake.

"Here are families that are just like yours and mine except they have a lot less. They've lost everything,'' said Maher, of Guelph.

He encouraged Canadians to "dig deep'' in their pockets to helpBut members of the GTA's Indo-Canadian community didn't need encouragement. They've already donated tens of thousands of dollars to the relief effort.

And Canada upped its contribution yesterday, announcing another $2 million in aid for a total of $3 million.

Friday's magnitude-7.9 quake - India's strongest in more than 50 years - shook the earth for more than 1,900 kilometres and was felt in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where 10 people were crushed in their houses.

More than half the houses in Bhuj, a city of 150,000 people, were reduced to rubble and the rest were damaged.

Bhuj fire chief K.N. Mahure said the death toll there alone could reach 30,000.

By yesterday, foreign aid was pouring in: Cranes, generators, cutting tools, sniffer dogs, seismic monitors and poles with long cameras attached had begun to arrive along with experienced teams of rescuers.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee appealed to Indians to contribute, saying federal emergency funds would not be enough.

"We cannot leave our brothers and sisters to the mercy of fate or the cruelty or vagaries of nature,'' he said.