Quake death toll could reach 100,000

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies today said it had begun a massive airlift to India and appealed for $15.45 million to aid quake survivors.

The world's largest disaster relief organisation said three planes had arrived so far at Bhuj, an ancient town near the epicentre of the quake, carrying supplies including a mobile field hospital which can care for up to 500 patients.

Indian officials have estimated that up to 20,000 people died in last Friday's quake, but India's Defence Minister George Fernandes predicted the death toll could reach 100,000.

The Federation's appeal to donor governments and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies should help cover medical, shelter, and water and sanitation needs for at least 300,000 people for four months, spokesman Denis McClean said.

"We have started a massive airlift," he said in Geneva. "Three planes have arrived this morning, bringing 100 metric tonnes of medical and water and sanitation equipment."

The flights, carrying supplies from the national Red Cross societies of Germany and Finland, were to be followed later in the day by flights from the Norwegian Red Cross, British Red Cross and Japanese Red Cross, he said.

A logistics team, which has been in Bhuj for several days, is to be joined by up to 30 medical staff, including surgeons, who began to today, he added.

A British rescue team today pulled a young man out of the rubble of India's devastating earthquake, just as they were about to give up hope of finding anyone still alive.

The man, who was 25 to 30 years old, was pulled out of a seven-storey apartment block which was leaning perilously at an angle, one side shorn away completely.

It had been scheduled for demolition before rescue workers realised someone was alive inside.

"He was speaking. He had his own water while he was in there," said Indian soldier K.S. Seehan, who witnessed the rescue by a British team in Bhuj in the western state of Gujarat.

Rescue workers immediately began looking for other survivors in the building, named the Shah Jehan Tower after the Moghul ruler who built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his wife.

People around the building were told to be quiet as rescue workers pushed long probes with microphones on the end into crevices in the hope of hearing other voices.

The British team said earlier they were preparing to pull out, in a tacit admission that it was nearly impossible to find anyone still alive after more than four days under the debris.

The team said they were postponing their departure for 24 hours after finding the latest survivor.

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