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February 5, 2001
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'I'd rather risk death by opening my shop than beg'

The roof could come crashing down on Mukesh Shah's head at any moment, but the Indian businessman says he would rather risk death by opening his shop in the quake-hit Indian town of Bhuj than beg on the streets.

The multi-storey building housing Shah's small grocery store was badly damaged in last month's killer earthquake that struck Gujarat on January 26.

But Shah said on Monday that he had no choice but to open for business -- even though none of the other shopkeepers in the building had returned.

"When it's time to die, it's time to die," he said when asked why he had reopened despite the dangers and visible signs of damage to the building. "Death is written by God."

"I come from an upper middle class family and we lost everything," he added. "I would rather be dead than beg on the street."

Authorities have been telling people to stay away from damaged buildings in case there were more aftershocks from the earthquake that struck the state with a force measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale.

Close to epicentre

Other shopkeepers have opened in Bhuj -- close to the epicentre of the quake -- but most of them ran street stalls rather than more formal businesses in high-rise buildings.

Shah and his family owned several shops in the town -- as well as their homes -- but most were destroyed in the calamity.

He lost a sister-in-law and her two children in the earthquake that killed an estimated 30,000 people.

For Shah -- who is sleeping outdoors with friends after taking his family to an uncle's home 100 km away -- the fear of begging for food has driven him to re-open his shop despite the risks.

"There is no choice," he said.

Many people forced from their homes in Bhuj have been relying on handouts from aid groups.

But Shah said that while his number of customers was down from before the quake, the ones who did shop in his store were happy that he was open.

"There's nowhere for them to go right now," he said.

The Complete Coverage | List of earthquake sites

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