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CNN Today

Western India Still Reeling From Earthquake

Aired February 2, 2001 - 2:32 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Today, a week later now, we get a new sense of how powerful the earthquake that rocked India was. This is where it was centered, in a remote area of northwestern India. You see a huge holes left, the cracks in the Earth, as you see there, that resulted from the quake and its magnitude 7.9.

More than 15,000 bodies have been pulled from the rubble left after the earthquake, and with village after village in ruins, officials estimate that the death toll could be double that, maybe even higher. A major concern now: caring for the hundreds of thousands who survived and are now desperate for food, clothing and shelter. Relief is pouring into the country from a host of nations.

This tragedy, even bringing together India and Pakistan as neighbors, not as rivals, for a change.

Joining us now on the telephone line is John Schenk. He is with the relief organization known as World Vision. Mr. Schenk, we appreciate your joining us.

I know that you went there to help in this particular situation. But when you arrived on the scene where the earthquake struck hardest, what were you struck by?

JOHN SCHENK, WORLD VISION: Well, I -- I landed early in the morning, got a vehicle, and we started toward the earthquake zone. And as a group, we were overwhelmed by the -- by the destruction. Entire villages just reduced to rubble. I would say that the landscape was apocalyptic.

I've never seen anything like it. I spent 10 years in Africa and dealt with a lot of man-made tragedies. But I saw communities blasted, reduced to rubble in a way that bombs don't do (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CHEN: I think in the United States people tend to view India as one series of small towns, rural areas. But what we're talking about are some fairly significant communities, places with high-rises, things of that nature, at least before the quake?

SCHENK: Very much so. In fact, this is a significant part of Gujarat state. This is an economic and industrial (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And while it's right to focus in on the human tragedy at this moment, there's another one that is -- that's forming and taking place, because the petrochemical industry, the import/export, the movement of oil to the north of the country, all of these things are grinding to a halt because of all of this. And the estimates are that it's causing multimillions of dollars a day for the Indian government. There's another tragedy forming as a backdrop to this one that will emerge later on.

CHEN: But the current tragedy, and that is the situation of those left behind, trying to bring their lives back into some sense of order. What is the need now? Is enough shelter being provided? Is enough shelter, material reaching the places where it is so desperately needed?

SCHENK: Well, the irony is there's an incredible outpouring of aid: Churches, religious societies, rotary clubs, NGOs like World Vision are pouring in. The Indian public have done (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in terms of moving assistance into this area. But what is lacking is government coordination at this particular point to make sure that these goods get to the right people.

CHEN: And even in the most remote areas, do you think those areas are being attended to as well, or is the concentration really on sort of these urban centers?

SCHENK: No. Vehicles are moving down the dirt roads. People are getting to the rural centers. I spent yesterday visiting quite a number of villages. As you had said earlier, village after village in ruins, but wherever we went, we found that somebody had been there, there's some kind of contact made. We're going to move food and shelter supplies into service of 60,000 people.

I think that the services are getting into the area. What really is lacking, though, is some kind of a big-picture coordination to divvy up and get the supplies to the right people.

CHEN: Can you explain how you think that's going to be resolved? I mean, this problem is going to go on for some time for these folks. When you need water and you need blankets and you need clothing and you need shelter, yes, of course, some sort of structure is necessary, but who's going to step in here to do the organization that you talked about?

SCHENK: This is a very good question, actually. At the moment, a lot of Indians are wondering why the government hasn't declared this a national disaster, in part because of the economic impact, but mostly because of the hundreds of thousands of people that have been traumatized by this.

So it's difficult to say. The army is doing an exemplary job in terms of triage, medical evacuation, civil (UNINTELLIGIBLE) restoring order, search and rescue (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which has now become search and recovery. But more is needed.

CHEN: I'm sure it is. John Schenk of the organization World Vision joining us on the telephone live from Gandhidham in India. Thanks very much.

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