Hopes fade for quake survivors

British rescue workers today remained upbeat about finding survivors of the devastating Indian earthquake which has already claimed more than 6,000 lives.

But officials in India said hopes of finding more survivors were fading.

According to official figures, the disaster has killed 6,181 people in the state of Gujarat.

The state's Chief Minister, Keshubhai Patel, has predicted that the toll could reach 20,000.

But a British aid worker in the region said he still believed survivors of Friday's catastrophe could be found amid the ruined buildings.

The Britons were continuing to search for survivors after the 69-member team pulled out three survivors yesterday.

Survivors have accused authorities of conducting a sluggish rescue effort which has left thousands of people trapped under the rubble of buildings destroyed by the quake, which had a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today pledged federal aid worth nearly $108 million to the earthquake-devastated state of Gujarat, and complained that villages were not getting enough relief.

Paul Blewitt, with the rescue team Rapid UK in the city of Bhuj - one of the worst-hit centres - said: "There are still a number of buildings yet to search and there is always that possibility. There is always a chance."

The British team was working in temperatures of 110f (44c) and conditions were extremely difficult.

"The temperature makes it more difficult to work and because there is no infrastructure there is no electricity or water," he said. "There is a trickle of bottled water and that is what's keeping us going."

The British team has split up to search different areas of the city. Rapid UK spent the night searching the remains of a six-storey block of flats but found no sign of survivors. Today it was beginning to search other collapsed blocks.

Yesterday British rescuers pulled a seven-year-old boy from under a collapsed housing block nearly 60 hours after the earthquake hit the western state of Gujarat. Two hours later members of the 69-strong team rescued the boy's 28-year-old mother.

Earlier the British rescuers - who include members of the Fire Service, the International Rescue Corps (IRC) and Pathfinders - found their first survivor, less than three hours after arriving in the city of Bhuj.

Survivor Kusumben Myacha, who was the last person to be pulled out alive yesterday, said that with no food or water she lived on hope and faith in her Hindu gods as she lay pinned under a massive chunk of cement for three days.

Gujarat's Chief Minister denied charges of a slow response. "I organised the officials and we got down to work. But an earthquake is not a cyclone," he said. "We were not forewarned."

It took time to gather diggers and cranes, and the larger ones could not reach many of the blocks of flats because of the region's narrow roads, he said.

Survivor Dhrumal Vaidya blamed poor enforcement of construction standards for many deaths.

"So many buildings have come up in recent years which clearly wouldn't meet any of the building standards," he said. "Unscrupulous builders get away with it, and it takes a tragedy like this for people to realise they've been cheated."

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that a British doctor, Ashok Nathwani, was among the dead. He was trapped in a building in the city of Ahmedabad when the country's most devastating earthquake for 50 years struck on Friday.

Dr Nathwani, a consultant community paediatrician in Fareham and Gosport, Hampshire, had gone to India with his father to scatter his mother's ashes and to attend a medical conference in Agra.

A spokeswoman for the Portsmouth Health Care NHS Trust said: "It is awful. He was lovely man and he is going to be really missed - he had such a way with the kids."

Dr Nathwani's wife flew to India on Saturday night with one of her sons after hearing that her husband was missing.

The Foreign Office has issued two helpline numbers - 020 7008 0000 and 020 7839 1010 - for people worried about relatives.

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