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Updated: January 30, 2001 05:00 PM GMT
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Church agencies are rushing emergency aid to survivors of the earthquake that killed up to 100,000 Indians, but say aftershocks and lack of information have hindered aid efforts.

In Gujarat, the western state in which destruction was concentrated, the government declared a 48-hour alert after a tremor measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale jolted people awake Jan. 28, two days after the first quake.

Federal Defence Minister George Fernandes told international media Jan. 30 that based on aerial surveys, the massive earthquake that struck Jan. 26 morning may have claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Father Gregory D´Souza, deputy executive director of Caritas India, told UCA News Jan. 30 that Caritas, the Indian bishops´ social service arm, approved 5 million rupees (US$107,596) for immediate relief.

It and the U.S. bishops´ Catholic Relief Services also have airlifted 20 million rupees´ worth of medicine, food and clothing for immediate distribution, he added.

According to Father D´Souza, an initial five-member Caritas team sent to Bhuj, the quake´s epicenter, is helping Rajkot diocese provide immediate shelter, medical aid, food and drinking water in the worst-hit area.

However, communication remains difficult, he said.

Nirmal Singh, administrative officer of the Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), told UCA News that the Protestant relief agency has allotted 70 million rupees and will identify 35,000 families to whom it will distribute dry rations, tarpaulins, drinking water and medicine.

The CASA official said initial relief will take at least 60 days, with long-term rehabilitation beginning only afterwards.

The Catholic Health Association of India organized an eight-member team of doctors from northern India that is helping Ahmedabad diocese cope with relief, an association spokesperson told UCA News Jan. 30.

"Although the picture is not yet clear, the immediate requirement is to give medical attention and prepare to counter epidemics," James Valliath said.

Vijay Arul Das, secretary of the Christian Medical Association of India, said it has airlifted 25 doctors along with nurses, medical equipment and medicine. They operate in makeshift tents, he said, adding that his organization would focus on areas that have not yet received medical aid.

A team of doctors will attend villages for the next six months on a rotation basis, he told UCA News Jan 30.

Josna T. Jacob, assistant program manager for the Indo-German Social Service Society, said her organization was "at a loss" because the "situation keeps changing, the dead and injured keep increasing."

Nonetheless, it has procured heavy cranes and earthmovers to help rescue people by clearing rubble, she reported.

According to Church of North India (CNI) Bishop Vinod K. Malaviya of Gujarat, the earthquake´s aftermath "is beyond description and estimate."

He said in a press release that 90 percent of buildings in Bhuj, Jamnagar and Ahmedabad have collapsed, and that some villages and small towns were "100 percent destroyed."

The press release said CNI agencies have started collecting blankets, clothes and medicine for donation.

Bishop Malaviya said his Church would provide food and water for some 30,000 families for 10 days and temporary shelters with plastic sheets, cooking pots and two blankets each to some 1,000 families.

People fleeing Bhuj, the Kutch district headquarters some 1,160 kilometers southwest of New Delhi, say the quake reduced the entire city to rubble.

Religious congregations in the country have offered help to the earthquake survivors, with the Salesians pledging 1 million rupees for food and clothes.

According to media reports, 871 medical, 5,563 rescue and 8,000 army personnel are active in relief work in Gujarat. Some 92,000 blankets and 8,210 tents have reached there for distribution with thousands more on the way.


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