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CNN Insight

India's Earthquake

Aired January 29, 2001 - 4:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JONATHAN MANN, INSIGHT (voice-over): Overwhelmed. In the Indian state of Gujarat and beyond, a grief beyond measure. Thousands dead and counting. Millions of dollars of destruction.

(on camera): Hello, and welcome.

There are so many dead that survivors both mourn and fear them. More than 6,000 bodies have been recovered, but there may be 20,000 in all. In places like Ahmedabad, Gujarat's economic hub, and in Bhuj, the city closest to the epicenter, the smell of death hangs in the air.

Even as rescuers try to find survivors trapped in the rubble, doctors fear that the dead trapped as well may soon spread disease. On our program today - India's earthquake. Our first report from CNN's Satinder Bindra in Bhuj.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Indian army soldiers clear tons of rubble from this building, they hear what sounds like a faint and feeble voice. The voice belongs to Prakash Gore, trapped under tons of debris.

Shifting rubble too quickly can mean instant death for both Prakash Gore and the rescue team. So the Indians call in the experts, the Swiss disaster relief unit.

The rescuers race against time. After hours of digging, an unbelievable moment. Rescuers dig further frantically. They know for sure Prakash Gore is alive when he moves his hand ever so slightly. What's even more remarkable, say rescuers, is he's been talking this way for hours.

RAJA KARTHKETA, RESCUE WORKER: The very first thing he says, in fact, when we established communication with him, I spoke to him. He says, "I just want to go back to work. I want to be on my feet, and I want to go to work."

BINDRA: A doctor reaches in to touch Prakash Gore. He's still alive, but barely. More ominously, perhaps, for the first time since last night, he falls silent. Then suddenly, he talks again.

KARTHKEKA: He said that, "You are not taking care of me. You are -- I don't want to hear -- listen to anything you say. Just get me out of here this very moment."

BINDRA: Sixteen hours after rescuers first heard Prakash Gore, they gingerly pull him to the surface, to sunshine, to fresh air and a first glimpse in four days of one of his brothers.

JANAK GORE, BROTHER (through translator): All my aspirations have come true. They worked very hard to pull my brother out alive.

KARTHKEKA: He felt what he was going through was probably a temporary phase. He had absolute hope that he was going to get out.

BINDRA: With no food and water, rescuers say Prakash Gore is alive because of his stamina, courage and will to live.

(on camera): Right by Prakash Gore's side and still clutching his hand when he was pulled out - his wife. Rescuers say she died four days ago. Also dead, Prakash Gore's 2-day-old son and nine other members of his family.

(voice-over): In Bhuj, every life saved is a cause for celebration. Within moments of Prakash Gore's rescue, workers pull out 4-year-old Sonu Mahesh (ph). As she emerges from what many thought was her tomb, Sonu asks for an ice cream cone and her doll, stunning rescuers. Soon, they'll have to tell 4-year-old Sonu she joins thousands of others in Bhuj who'll have to live the rest of their lives without their families.

Satinder Bindra, CNN, Bhuj, western India.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: The conclusion was inescapable. Even the prime minister shared it. Atal Behari Vajpayee toured the region and told reporters the country is not ready to face such disasters. He said India couldn't cope with the cyclone that killed 10,000 people in the east of the country two years ago, and it is having trouble coping now.

More on the situation and the prime minister's visit from CNN's Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All day, the needy keep coming, 10,000 feet at this communal kitchen alone. And throughout the city, there are dozens more.

Shelter, too, is provided for the most hard hit. Fifty to a tent, crowding the tiny makeshift campground built on open space in the middle of the town.

Those lucky enough to own sturdier houses that survived the quake live in their gardens. Whole families outdoors in case of aftershocks. There are fears also about disease from the bodies and how to cope with their changed lives.

P. J. VORA, BHUJ RESIDENT: For the coming days, it is basic abilities like water and electricity, that is a must.

ROBERTSON: In a sign of just how serious the upcoming problems are likely to be. The prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, toured the city. His message - for everyone in India to help out.

Elsewhere in the city, the search for the missing is still on. Indian army troops leading the effort, now helped by overseas teams and their technical equipment.

MIKE THOMAS, U.K. SEARCH & RESCUE: What we've been able to bring is special equipment and some expertise in identifying and locating people who may still be alive.

ROBERTSON: Their presence raising hopes. Pownam Mulchandani (ph) shows a British team where she last saw her 12-year-old son Janak (ph) in their apartment as she left to go shopping minutes before the quake.

Four days now since the disaster, and although a few people are still being saved, she recognizes her son's chances may be slim.

POWNAM MULCHANDANI, QUAKE VICTIM: I wish you would have come earlier. Today is the fourth day.

ROBERTSON: Around for the next few days at least, the international teams will likely pull out when there is no chance of finding anybody else alive.

(on camera): And while, for now at least, no one here appears to be giving up hope of finding lost loved ones alive, the focus is beginning to shift to the future. India's chamber of commerce says the quake is going to cost $3.3 billion.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Bhuj, India.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: We have to take a break. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MANN: Welcome back.

Lack of equipment and manpower for the rescue and treatment of the injured has hampered operations in India from the start. Despite Prime Minister Vajpayee's promise to form a national disaster agency, many people are relying heavily on aid from other countries.

Here's CNN's Kasra Naji in New Delhi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KASRA NAJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the main railway station, here special trains have been laid on to take worried relatives to Gujarat. Many here have not heard from their loved ones since the quake struck on Friday. Some are fearing the worst.

Communication lines have been down and just beginning to be restored to some areas. At New Delhi International Airport, search and rescue teams are arriving on international flights from more than a dozen countries, bringing with them sniffer dogs and special equipment. This team from Hungary. Getting visas and permission held them up for two days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The team was all ready to arrive in India on Saturday, so it took some time while there was a readiness to receive and issue the visas.

NAJI: The government is taking note.

BHASKAR NARUA, INDIAN GOVT. SPOKESMAN: The instructions have been given that Ahmedabad on landing will be given visa immediately for 15 days. There should be no problem at all.

NAJI: At the headquarters of the Indian Red Cross, these trucks loaded with blankets and other essentials have been waiting for more than 24 hours for clearance from the authorities. Shipments of supplies have been slow, too - at least from New Delhi.

This transport plane is taking one of the few shipments from here to the region. The kerosene lamps and water containers too few to make a big difference. From the region, reports speak of many survivors not getting basic assistance, such as food, water and medicine.

ARUN JAITLEY, SENIOR FEDERAL MINISTER: Shortages would be there because modes of carrying them, whether it is road or it's air, also became (inaudible) because of the earthquake. So as a result of which you have to put those infrastructures back into place and then transport them.

NAJI: Relief has yet to reach a number of other towns and villages in the region which are still cut off from the rest of the country.

(on camera): The government is clearly overwhelmed by the extent of this calamity. The prime minister has called on all Indians to give generously to a special relief fund. The government clearly needs all the help it can get, both from inside India and from abroad.

Kasra Naji, CNN, New Delhi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: Raja Jarrah is program director of CARE International UK. CARE has been operating in India for four decades, and it's now set up an office in Gujarat to help the earthquake victims.

Thanks so much for being with us. There have been enormous problems, but this was an enormous, enormous tragedy. How well have the relief efforts been going, do you think?

RAJA JARRAH, CARE INTERNATIONAL UK: Well, the situation is grim. And an earthquake of this size I don't think would have been possible to deal with in much of a more efficient way. Any country would have had difficulty in dealing with an earthquake of close to 8 on the Richter scale. And we have seen some very good mobilizations with the number of soldiers that were made available very quickly.

On the other hand, we have to ask questions in the coming weeks about how well the country was prepared for an earthquake of this size. Were buildings designed to cope with earthquakes? Were they built according to the design? Were the population given earthquake awareness training so that they knew what to do when it happened?

And those are the questions we'll be asking in the next few weeks.

MANN: The prime minister has been asked about the response. People are complaining that it was slow, and he said part of the problem was that the earthquake struck on Republic Day, a national holiday in India. Is there anything to that, do you think?

JARRAH: Yes, I think there must be something to that. Holidays always catch people off guard. And an earthquake of this size was certainly not expected by the seismologists. The question we ask then is, was international aid called in fast enough once the size of the problem was realized?

MANN: Now, you're asking that question. Do you have a first guess about the answer?

JARRAH: My first guess that there was an issue of national pride here, that India does have a remarkable capacity to respond to disasters, as has been seen. But I think they underestimated the size of the problem and waited a bit too long before calling in international help.

MANN: India is a big, crowded country. It is, in some respects, quite a rich country and in others impoverished. Does it have any particular problems coping with a disaster like this or any particular assets? It obviously has a very big army, and the army has been put to use. But I'm wondering if it has other difficulties or assets that come into play.

JARRAH: Well, one of the difficulties is that when a disaster doesn't strike, people seem to think the disasters are not important and it's better to spend resources on development. But when you look at the cost of the relief effort and the cost of the damage that's been created by the disaster - we heard on your report now that something like $3 billion damage - if a fraction of that had been spent on preparedness activities, maybe we could have reduced that damage enormously.

So the problem that India faces is a problem that's seen worldwide, that disasters don't get the necessary attention until they strike.

MANN: What does India need to do now, and what kind of help does it need from outside?

JARRAH: Well, for the immediate period, there are lots of displaced people. We are expecting a death toll of 20,000 to 25,000 at least. Those 25,000 people will be mourned by hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods have been completely destroyed. So what will be needed now is, apart from the immediate support for medical and food and water assistance, assistance in helping those families reestablish their livelihoods.

People who have lost everything - houses, their assets, their children, their partners. It's a long haul ahead. Development goes backwards during a disaster.

MANN: Let me ask you more about that because there are these numbers that are being quoted. They're obviously very early estimates. But people talk about $3 billion, maybe more. In a country as poor as India, but as big, what does that represent when people talk in those kinds of figures?

JARRAH: Yes, it's very difficult to know how these calculations are made. The estimates come from the chamber of commerce, and they will be looking at the cost to infrastructure and the cost of lost production and the damage to exports.

But if you actually also add into that figure, the cost to individual people in terms of their household economies, then the figure is probably much bigger than that. But it's something that can't be counted.

MANN: Well, we're looking, while we're talking, at different images from the different sites, where the cameras have visited and seen some of the devastation. Sometimes bad things bring out the best in people. Sometimes they don't. Often we hear cases of looting, of goods that are suddenly available or unprotected. We hear about people fighting over scarce relief supplies.

Have you had any reports either way about the law and order situation now in India?

JARRAH: No, we've heard isolated - the reports of isolated and sporadic incidents, but no systematic looting or breakdown of law and order. As you mentioned, there has been an amazing sense of solidarity among the suffering.

And people are desperate, and they're going to do some silly things that they probably wouldn't do in normal times, but we haven't heard of anything systematic.

MANN: On that note, Raja Jarrah of CARE International UK, thank you so much for talking with us.

Another break now, and in a moment, we'll look at the world's most dangerous places for earthquakes - from California to Calcutta. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MANN (voice-over): The official death toll from the 1999 Turkish earthquake stands at around 15,000. It's thought the actual figure could be much higher. Many experts believe the toll would have been lower but for shoddy construction, corruption and government incompetence.

On the other end of the spectrum, Japan employs some of the most advanced quake-proof technology in the world. You wouldn't know it by looking at the damage in Kobe, Japan, in 1995, though. Buildings, bridges and roads crumbled. More than 6,000 people died there.

(on camera): Welcome back.

Earthquakes strike without warning, but we do know where the danger zones are. Major cities at risk include Los Angeles, Tokyo and Taipei, which are considered to be fairly well prepared. And those with less resistance - Istanbul, Islamabad and Jakarta, to name a few.

Kenneth Hudnut joins us now to talk about the risks. He's a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Thank you so much for being with us.

We saw briefly all those places on the map. What do they have in common that puts them at risk?

KENNETH HUDNUT, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: They tend to be at the intersections or plate boundaries between the large plates of the Earth's crust, and where those boundaries are, you tend to have earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

MANN: So there's no mystery to the people who live in those cities, no mystery to the people who run them. If you were running them or if I were, what could we do to make those cities safer?

HUDNUT: Well, as you can see from the types of construction that tend to fail in earthquakes, there are multiple problems here. One is existing structures that really ought to be retrofitted. The costs associated with retrofitting older structures can be enormous.

Another problem for the longer term that can be solved is by having better engineering codes that as pressure mounts to build cities larger, people will want to build higher buildings. And by having better engineering codes, we can improve on that.

And then, as you see, just preparedness in terms of being able to mount an effective emergency response operation. That can also help.

MANN: So the first answer is architecture and building codes. In a quake the size of India's - and I don't want you to guess about conditions there that you may or may not be informed about - but where the magnitude of an earthquake anywhere approaches 8, how much does the architecture matter? Do earthquakes get so big that nothing can be really done to minimize their destructiveness?

HUDNUT: I would say not. That it can't - it is possible to engineer structures that are highly resistant to earthquake shaking. The problem is more to do with older structures that have not been designed to the most stringent codes.

MANN: There are places where buildings aren't designed to codes at all. In the developing world, there's an awful lot of latitude that people have about the buildings they put up. And in some places, there's a lot of corruption. What happens in places like that? Are really bad earthquakes inevitably going to lead to human tragedies?

HUDNUT: I'm afraid so, although it is always possible or one can hope that governments will be more proactive in addressing and mitigating these types of problems. I think that that's up to the people, and people need to feel that motivation to try to make progress on these very difficult problems.

MANN: Can you think of specific places where they really are trying or specific places where they are not?

HUDNUT: Well, I think in all of the developed and developing nations that it varies by country, but some of the countries, in particular that I am aware of where people are really trying hard to address problems are Turkey. For example, in Istanbul, there is a very direct concern about future earthquakes that might have a major impact on Istanbul.

The government there is trying very hard, I think, to address this problem, and it is a difficult one because we can't anticipate when the next large earthquake may happen. There is a high degree of concern, and I think that people are really working hard there to try to address it.

MANN: Now we've spoken about cities. Are we being short-sighted, or are cities really the most dangerous place to be?

HUDNUT: They are the most dangerous, and in terms of trends through time, as human population worldwide has risen, there is a tendency for people to congregate more in the large cities, where there are more opportunities for people. As people have moved to population centers, and particularly those around the ring of fire and other active tectonic boundary zones, people move into large cities - and as that has occurred through history, the number of dead in any given earthquake have continued to rise.

So as population centers become more dense, the problem is exacerbated. It's just a continuing path toward more problems of this kind unless engineering codes can be adopted as the population growth occurs.

MANN: One of the most heart-wrenching things about this earthquake in India is that we're hearing about children caught in schools, schools that have crumbled around them. Are public buildings built any better than private buildings tend to be? I know they're built differently because they're put up by the government not by proud homeowners or careful business people.

When these disasters strike, is there any way to tell which kinds of buildings are more likely to survive?

HUDNUT: There are ways to tell in advance of future earthquakes just by going in and studying the type of structure. That is how one would carry out a retrofit program. One could identify classes of types of buildings that are most susceptible to coming down in future earthquakes.

In terms of public buildings, and particular schools, this is something that can be addressed. It is something that governments can be particularly effective in doing. They can say we will not tolerate having these schools that are, let's say, unreinforced masonry. This is just too dangerous a situation, and it is within our power to knock these schools down and build up from the ground with well-designed buildings.

MANN: We have just a moment. Obviously, in a place like Ahmedabad or in Bhuj, they're going to want to put up buildings quickly because they need to. Is there any word of caution that you can give them now? Should they be much more careful than they're inclined to be, or do you understand why they need shelter and they need construction?

HUDNUT: Temporary relief housing - tents, for example - actually are so lightweight that that's actually quite safe. And during the aftershocks, that can be a good form of housing. In the longer term, there may be a tendency for people to occupy structures that have already been damaged or structures that are unsafe and not to be occupied. But just for shelter, that's a potential risk.

There is a need in this situation for government relief efforts and others to come in and erect perhaps temporary or longer term structures that are also safe because there will be aftershocks. It is important to do the rebuilding after an earthquake so that future construction will last better in future earthquakes.

In this particular area, there was an earthquake in 1819 of comparable magnitude, and one does always ask the question, what can be done better next time?

MANN: Kenneth Hudnut of the U.S. Geological Survey, thank you so much for talking with us.

HUDNUT: My pleasure.

MANN: That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. A programming note before we go - starting next Monday, INSIGHT is changing times. We'll be on the air 30 minutes later each day at 2200 GMT, and we hope you can join us.

That's INSIGHT. Thanks for joining us.

END

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