India was celebrating her 52nd Republic Day on January 26, 2001, all of a sudden, the world collapsed on and around in Bhuj, Ahemedabad, Jamnagar and other cities and towns in Gujarat, as the earth shook for two minutes or more. In split second, high –rise structures collapsed like a house of cards in the capital city of Gujarat, while in Kutch district, Bhuj, about 1, 00,000 people were feared trapped. As India and the rest of the world looked stunned at the enormity of the devastation, even after a fortnight of the unprecedented disaster few could size up the enormity of calamity. The death count climbed up to one lakh with the more than double the number injured or homeless. In Kutch many towns were destroyed and some villages wiped off the match despite the steady efforts at removing the rubble and dubris.
The quake measured 7.9 on the scale and its epicenter was 20 km north-east of Bhuj in Kutch district. Rescue and relief operations from within the state and from outside- both from within the country and from different parts of the world- were in full swing. Twenty countries sent aid worth tens of millions of dollors. The horror of the quake was a ghastly tragedy of unprecedented magnitude. People were being buried where they lie. But those extracted were cremated with anything available, anything that burned. All around there was only grief and anguish, loss and destruction. However, ordinary people were the first to search and rescue. The tenacity of the local community and voluntary groups helped in saving many lives and extricating countless bodies. The army, navy and air-force worked round the clock for relief. In the first five days, the IAF made 232 Para-medical staff reached Bhuj to rush medical relief and conduct emergency operations. Despite the lack of operation theatres, open-air OTs and tents offered Medicare to the wounded.
This was the worst earth quake India has experienced after independence. Though natural calamities has hit India now and then. The devastating cyclone that hit the Andhra coast in 1977 claimed a toll of more than 25,000 lives. However, the cyclone management measures taken after the above disaster restricted the death toll to under 1000 in may, 1990 cyclone, through it was much more severe than the previous one. The great earthquake that hit Latur and Khillari in Maharashtra in 1993, took a toll of 30000 lives. Earthquakes in Uttarkashi, Jabalpur can also not be forgotten. The floods and drought are other natural calamities which affect millions of people.
To be fore-warned is to fore-armed. It is high time that both the government and the people took a lesson from the unforgettable experiences of the Gujarat earthquake. Today the dire need is setting up an independent department of disaster management at the Centre and in every state. Relief, rehabilitation and preventive work in a haphazard or adhoc manner will lead nowhere. Not only people but to a certain extent the economy of the region is also affected by these calamities.
The best homage that we can pay to our dead countrymen and the best service we can reassure to the survivors is that Gujarat earthquake will not be repeated. For this everything possible should be done to rebuild the lives of all those who have lost everything in life-their dear ones, their homes, their means of livelihood and even the mere desire to live. The tragedy of Gujarat is the tragedy of the entire country and the burden of the lost and dispossessed will become light once they know that the entire country is behind them.