Children pray as quake hits

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Reports from Hema Shukla in Anjar, Nirmala George in Ahmadabad and Suchitra Behal in New Delhi

Even as they faced death, teachers put their pupils' lives first and urged them to pray, according to a schoolgirl survivor of the Indian earthquake.

Aastha Karsan was marching in the middle of a group of 400 pupils and 50 teachers in a Republic Day parade when the quake struck the town of Anjar. As the ground caved in and the school and on houses either side of the narrow lane collapsed on top of them, she was pinned to the ground by rubble.

"After I was trapped by a boulder on my leg I could hear teachers saying 'Take God's name!'(pray)," 12-year-old Aastha said, "and after a while somebody pulled me out."

But rescue services arrived too late to save most of the others. Only two teachers and two children from the 20 schools on the parade survived. There has been no word of Aastha's sister, who was marching alongside her.

According to press reports, 10,000 people - most of the population of Anjar - have been killed. Not a single office or school has been eft standing. Other nearby towns have also been flattened.

In Ahmadabad, 100 miles east of Anjar, 37 children were buried when the four-storey Swami Narayan school collapsed during Friday's quake, which measured 7.9 on the open-ended Richter scale. Six were rescued within hours, but 16 bodies of students, aged 16 to 18, were later recovered. It was not known whether the remaining 15 children were still alive.

"Till Friday afternoon we could hear the cries of the children. Now we hear nothing," said police inspector Ramesh Barot, in charge of the rescue operation, on Monday. "But we are continuing our efforts."

Friday was an Indian national holiday, but the Swami Narayan pupils had attended a special physics class to prepare for a test.

British pupils have responded to the quake, which the Red Cross estimates has killed 50,000, by helping to collect clothing for the survivors.

An appeal has been organised through 50 schools in Sandwell, Birmingham, to collect clothes and blankets which will be flown free of charge by Air India to victims.

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