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February 1, 2001
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Killer quake hits India's lucrative diamond trade

India's diamond trade has been badly hit by a devastating earthquake in Gujarat, which accounts for most of the country's lucrative polishing and cutting business.

Traders in Ahmedabad, which has about 5,000 cutting and polishing factories, said on Thursday that even though their buildings were undamaged by the quake, most units were shut because panic-stricken workers had fled the city.

Only about 10 to 15 per cent of the diamond units were working and the diamond trade in Ahmedabad was losing some Rs 20 million a day because of the shutdown, traders added.

"I expect that it will take another week to 10 days before things normalise," Ramesh Naidu, a member of the Ahmedabad Diamond Association, said.

Gujarat accounts for about 80 per cent of the country's diamond industry, which buys raw diamonds from countries such as South Africa and then exports them after cutting and polishing.

The diamond trade, with estimated turnover of Rs 250 billion, is concentrated in Ahmedabad and Surat, which industry officials say were affected by the quake but to a lesser extent.

Big chunk of exports

India's gem and jewellery exports, which cover more than diamonds and account for 15 to 20 per cent of its total exports, were worth $8.03 billion in 1999-2000 (April-March).

Traders say terrified workers had refused to return even though most diamond factories were not seriously affected by the huge quake which flattened many high-rise buildings in Ahmedabad.

About 100 people were killed and 400 injured in a stampede in one diamond building after frightened workers rushed down a narrow staircase when the tremors first struck.

"They started falling and piling up on each other. My factory was full of dead bodies. I pulled out at least 60 people alive," Om Diamonds owner Ramesh Sighori said.

One factory owner said many workers jumped from the fourth floor, while others used womens' saris to lower themselves out of their buildings.

"I was screaming as hundreds of people fell on me. But my head was outside and I was saved," said Lalit, one of the workers who survived the stampede.

Officials in the state estimated the death toll in what was India's worst earthquake at 25,000. Other projections range from 50,000 to 100,000. Tens of thousands of people were injured.

Gujarat officials say the disaster will cost the state around Rs 100 billion. A major business lobby, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry put the cost at Rs 150 billion. Other projections ranged up to $5.5 billion.

The Complete Coverage | List of earthquake sites

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