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February 2, 2001
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Thousands of workers, traders flee Kutch paralysing economy

Thousands of workers and traders have fled the quake-devastated Kutch, stalling movement of cargo and deserting the salt and timber industry that has led to a paralysis of the local economy.

An estimated over 100,000 workers of Gandhidham extensively catered to the Kandla Port Trust and Kandla's export-oriented special economic zone.

Most of the salt-producing and timber units wore a deserted look with flattened and heavily damaged structures while the commercial establishments were devoid of any activities even a week after the killer quake hit Gujarat on January 26.

Gandhidham, estimated to have a population between 250,000-300,000 is a major commercial town with scores of hotels and transportation establishments, most of which are damaged beyond repair.

Kandla Port Trust chairman A K Joti said that his establishment was losing a revenue of about Rs 2.5 million a day due to closure of commercial operations, which are likely to resume partially in the next two-three days.

"Most of the 20,000 odd labour has left the town. We hope these people will return soon," he said recounting that workers had started trickling back to work within a fortnight of a cyclone devastating coastal Gujarat two years back.

Authorities at KPT, which handles an annual cargo of 4 million metric tonnes, have detected cracks in the 20-metre deep underground piles in five jetties constructed over 40 years ago.

"The newer jetties have been built on 30 meter deep piles and are intact. We hope to start operations on theses in the next few days," Joti said, adding that the first five jetties would be survey for the extent of damage before any decision was taken to put these for commercial operations.

A senior official of the Kandla's special economic zone

Said: "We have sent back the workers who came from outside Gujarat, but locals are coming back for the duty."

"No structure in the SEZ with 130 industrial units is safe," he said, adding that the export zone was built up at a cost of up to Rs 4 billion.

"If we have to reconstruct the building and other facilities we may need up to Rs 1 billion... Initially we need at least Rs 40 million to undertake repair works," he said.

Describing the woes of the hotel industry, a hotelier told the visiting Union Home Minister L K Advani that 90 per cent of the city's hotels, which catered to a large migratory population of businessmen, transporters and workers, are destroyed.

"No commercial complex is intact and the losses can be to the tune of Rs 25 billion," local businessmen estimated.

The Complete Coverage | List of earthquake sites

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