Sunday, October 04, 2009

Thinking of Earthquakes

The word itself is frightening. The reality much, much, more so! Some years ago, with a group of friends from church (All Souls, Coimbatore), we took off to try to lend a hand in the North Indian state of Gujurat where a massive quake had leveled many populous towns. I went along as a blood banker and someone who knows something about lab medicine. The group was organized by Roshan.

We were nine altogether and were led by a double FRCS surgeon (Dr. Thomas Abraham). We didn't all know each other very well when we started out, but that changed.

We worked out of a much cracked (but still standing) Catholic hospital at Gandhidham. Almost every building in this town sported huge cracks and structural damage, but most were still standing. That was frightening enough and we lived in small tents while the hundreds of patients were treated in bigger adjoining tents, all placed well away from the main hospital building - just in case...

Though the hospital still stood, no one (except the very brave surgery teams), wanted to take any chances as there were massive cracks right through the structure. The operating theater was inside, however, and all serious surgery requires that level of sterility, so the surgeons and nurses just went about their business as if all was normal.


After two days settling in and organizing our work at the hospital, we went along with one of the CARE relief teams to some outlying villages, and on the way back paused at the town of Anjar.  Anjar is a populous town and was once densely packed with cheaply constructed houses and shops. The devastation was almost total. it was just one huge mass of rubble. What was even more scary was that it was untouched. The surviving locals, and apparently all the local government too, had fled for their lives. There was absolutely no sign of an attempt at any sort of 'rescue operation'.

We were standing yards away from the spot where hundreds of children on an early morning Republic Day march through the downtown area simply disappeared under tons of rubble. My guess for this town alone would be at least 30,000 dead. Facing Anjar that day, the reality started to sink in. The word 'terrible' had a meaning. Something just turned inside of me. I felt as if my insides had been vacuumed out leaving only a dull aching sense of shame and horror.

But there was mercifully work to do, so we got back and got busy. The recent series of earthquakes in Padang suddenly brought all those memories flooding in. Earthquakes and Tsunamis are terrible things. At least with the Tsunamis (that we have seen) they are one-of events, but earthquakes are not so. There were predictions on the net even in those days that another big one was lurking and could be unleashed in Gujurat at any moment. The reminders were constant. You'd get this sudden feeling of disorientation as everything wobbled. These were the frequent aftershocks, some so gentle that they are hardly noticed, others that made me want to run - but there's nowhere to run to.


The pics are of Anjar. In the one just above, the headless idol marks the spot under which the school children 'disappeared'. 

Pray for the survivors of Padang. Food, clean water, and shelter will all have disappeared. If the quake doesn't get you the chances that serious diseases will is very high. Pray for the relief workers on the ground. They are all at risk and will need to fight off their own fears just to be able to get on with the unbelievably huge tasks that face them.





The aerial view on the right shows the 'downtown' area. Not only had homes and shops been damaged , there wasn't even a sense left of any individual buildings or even of walls...
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