From my first-hand experience in Bhuj, I can imagine the magnitude of the tragedy in Syria and Türkiye and what people there must be going through. I understand that more than 20,000 people have died so far. The images of crashed buildings and roads split apart remind me of Bhuj in 2001.
It had taken me 18-20 hours to reach Bhuj from Mumbai by road. When I reached there, I saw damaged roads, villages vanished, multi-storey buildings collapsed and people trapped inside the rubble. It was heart-breaking to see survivors crying for help and running around in despair.
I was working with an international rescue crew at the time. They were into rescue operations and had come from the UK with an aircraft full of relief material. As a person working in the field of sound, that was one of the most satisfying projects I have been part of. They were carrying with them equipment that helped us trace people trapped inside the rubble.
The instrument is fitted with a stereo microphone system with a censor and infrared cameras. The censor is put inside the rubble and building ruins to trace any presence of life. The body temperature of a living human being or animal trapped inside the rubble is different from its surroundings. That is the way the censor works. One can even sense breathing sounds. The infra-red cameras are then used to trace the exact position of the subject.
It was humbling to be a part of a rescue mission involved in saving lives. I still remember how a 20-year-old boy was pulled out of remains of a building in Bhuj. He was rescued after a 104-hour long ordeal.
He shared his terrifying memories with me. When the earthquake hit, he thought there had been a nuclear explosion. He screamed and screamed, but was heard by none. He realised there was no point in screaming. He experienced the aftershocks and he could hear those who were a part of rescue operations. He waited for the noises to die down and screamed again. That’s how we could locate him with the help of the stereo microphone system.
We managed to trace 7-8 people. I remember tracing a cat caught inside the rubble. Life is precious. When caught in a disaster, human life is no different from that of an animal.
The rescue teams were pulling out people who were alive and they were not in a position to give priority to rescuing lifeless bodies. A man asked us to take his wife out of the ruins of a building. He knew she had died but he lied to us that she had been alive. He desperately wanted us to take her body out.
The whole operation was a life-altering experience for me. I returned to Bhuj after a few weeks. It was traumatic to see the aftermath of the disaster. It was heartbreaking to see people trying to rebuild their lives from broken past.
For me, it was a personal tragedy, too. A dear friend who was also a part of rescue and relief operations passed away a few weeks later. She was working with the Ham radio team. She contracted tuberculosis and passed away at a hospital in Bengaluru.
The Bhuj earthquake was not my first experience with disaster. I was a student at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune when the Latur earthquake struck in 1993. I went there a few days later to shoot a documentary on the impact of the disaster. The Bhuj earthquake, however, was my first experience of being part of rescue operations. Rebuilding life from the remains of a disaster is painful and tough. People in Syria and Türkiye are indeed going through their toughest times.
(As told to Shahina K.K.)
Resul Pookutty is an Oscar and BAFTA-winning sound mixer and designer, filmmaker, writer and philanthropist