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India Quake Veterans Study Local Response

TIMES STAFF WRITER

N. Raghunathan, chief secretary for the Indian state of Maharashtra, witnessed massive death and destruction in the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people in his country in September and caused nearly $800 million in damage.

Still, as he stood before the collapsed Northridge Meadows Apartments building Monday as part of an official delegation visiting from India, he was taken aback by the random destruction caused by the Jan. 17 Northridge quake.

“It’s amazing,” Raghunathan said as he stared at the remains of the flattened three-story complex where 16 people died, while another three-story complex next to it did not collapse. “How could that happen?”

The four-member delegation from India was only the latest in a growing number of foreign government officials visiting Los Angeles to study the joint federal and state response to the 6.8-magnitude quake that killed 57 people.

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In the past few weeks, government officials from Canada, Korea, Germany, France, Argentina, Chile and Taiwan have visited disaster relief centers and earthquake damage sites.

Last week, 30 government officials from Japan visited an Earthquake Service Center in Chatsworth. They represented Japan’s ministries of health and welfare, transport, posts and telecommunications and construction, as well as Japan’s Fire Defense Agency, National Land Agency, Science and Technology Agency and National Police Agency.

There are many similarities among the Northridge and Killari, India, quakes. The Sept. 30 quake in a remote area of southwest India struck at 3:56 a.m., only 35 minutes minutes earlier than the one here. In both quakes, most people were asleep at the time and had very little time, if any, to escape. The immediate loss of electricity also left both areas in total darkness during the first few hours after the quake.

Most of the dead in both quakes were crushed to death.

Both quakes also seemed to destroy some buildings while leaving others on the same block virtually untouched. The massive destruction in both quakes attracted curious spectators, which in the early hours of the Killari quake impeded relief efforts.

Kuljit S. Sidhu, secretary and special commissioner with the earthquake relief and rehabilitation commission in Bombay, said the death toll was higher in India primarily because it hit densely populated villages where most of the homes were old and constructed of mud with stone rooftops.

“Killari was an area not prone to earthquakes,” Sidhu said. “The buildings were very old and not built according to any seismic codes. After seeing the damage here, it seems you have buildings constructed to seismic codes.”

The Indian delegation met with officials from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which are jointly coordinating post-quake assistance efforts.

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The group then toured disaster sites, including Cal State Northridge, the Northridge Fashion Center and the Northridge Meadows Apartments, as well as an Earthquake Service Center in Chatsworth.

Raghunathan said that unlike the disaster assistance process in the United States, in which centers were set up for victims to apply for aid, Indian government officials went to the people to offer help. Instead of assistance consisting of grants and low-interest loans, the Indian government awarded only grants.

“But in an urban area like this, this approach is probably best,” Raghunathan said after touring the service center in Chatsworth. “I think they are doing a great job. I’m very impressed.”


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