In a makeshift medical camp on a local cricket ground, a good 24 hours after the quake, Avinash Vaidya, an officer with the Home Guard, stands hopelessly among the dead. "I'm waiting for the man who does the head count," he says. Some feet away, there is a cart with some medicines. One man asks, "Do you know what a Combiflam is? The doctors are busy and my son needs it." By his side is Prabhubhai: four of his grown children are trapped in a building. He's come to the camp desperately seeking help. A little distance away, a stray dog tries to sniff the dead. There are too many people dead for anyone to restore human dignity in Bhuj.
Located 20 km from the epicentre of the quake, Bhuj is today in utter ruin. The 51st Republic Day will be mourned for years to come. It was around 8.45 am when the ground shook furiously for two minutes. When it was over, half of Bhuj was wiped out. Now there's hardly any building in the ghost town that's not scarred. There's not one townsperson not affected. Fear-stricken people camp in the open though the mercury dips to 10º C at night.
Those who survived are taking their dead on vegetable carts to cremation and burial grounds. Some wait outside amid the debris. Because their parents or children are somewhere in there. A sunken commercial building, called Shah-Point, has over 50 people trapped inside, some of them screaming out that they are alive. Through a crevice one can see a man stuck between two huge concrete slabs. His eyes respond to shouts from his friends. There are many such buildings where those who are trapped clearly outnumber the "officially dead".
The area within a 100-km radius of the epicentre has a population of over 4 lakh. Though towns closer to the epicentre, like Ratnal, witnessed stronger tremors, Bhuj is more densely populated. In and around Bhuj, in villages like Kukma and Morgar that lie...