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Eyewitness

I was in Sukhpur, a village with a population of 15,000 about 6km west of Bhuj when the disaster occurred. I was standing on the roof terrace of my brother-in-law's house at the time saying final goodbyes to my relatives as I was about to leave for the airport the same morning.

When the earthquake struck there was a lot of confusion at first. Initially I felt the ground vibrate vertically. This lasted for about a minute. Soon after the ground started to shake horizontally and vertically for perhaps five to seven minutes. The shaking was so strong that we were unable to leave the terrace to seek safety in open ground. We were very fortunate that our 50 year old, single storey building did not collapse.

Everyone was screaming and shouting as they tried to run to open areas for safety. Many were hampered by collapsing walls and houses. There was fear for the children, who were already in the school grounds to celebrate Republic Day. Thankfully many survived as the celebrations were in the open.

Strong tremors continued and many people were injured or buried under fallen debris. The old part of the village was totally destroyed and many tried in vain to locate their loved ones. Reported casualty rate was about 1,500 deaths.

As the day wore on people gathered to rescue survivors from the rubble using their bare hands.

Outside help did not arrive until the second day. The local police and the army arrived on the third day, with machinery to rescue the injured and retrieve the dead.

With power and communications destroyed, people could not go into their homes and were advised to stay outdoors. The temperature fell to 5degreesC and people huddled around camp fires to stay warm.

Nobody could sleep that night.

For the first two days there was no drinking water. Tankers finally reached us on the third day.

I was desperate to contact my wife and kids in London, so travelled to Bhuj where I was amazed at the extent of the destruction of low and medium rise buildings. Most were flattened.

Many buildings were relatively new - concrete framed structures with large open spaces at ground and basement to accommodate shops and parking. These typically failed due to shear and crushing failure of the columns, resulting in the tenements collapsing to the ground; with the upper structure remaining relatively intact but severely damaged. The older buildings had no chance. Many people were trapped between the collapsed concrete slabs, dying as they could not be rescued in time.

There was no communication in Bhuj either. Eventually I decided to travel by taxi to Ahmedebad 400km away to contact my family and arrange travel back to the UK.

On my journey, I travelled through many towns and villages that had been similarly destroyed by the earthquake; in particular towns of Anjar and Bhachau where the destruction was total.

I heard that parts of Ahmedebad had also been badly affected and many areas were cordoned off.

I returned to London on the fifth day via Mumbai. I was very lucky to survive. I am now concerned about the welfare of my relatives in Bhuj.

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