25 years after earthquake hit Latur: Survivors are building new lives in Pune, miles away from ground zero
About a month after an earthquake devastated Maharashtra’s Latur and neighbouring Osmanabad district 25 years ago, killing thousands and leaving tens of thousands more homeless, 25 state transport buses carrying 1,200 children left ground zero for Pune.
Some of them had been orphaned by the quake on September 30, 1993 that, according to the state government, killed about 8,000 people and flattened 55 villages. On October 25, 1993, they were ferried to Pune by a non-government organisation that hoped they would be able to rebuild their lives away from memories of the disaster zone.
“I was buried under the rubble for almost three hours before my elder brother, who was in the farms, rescued me,” says Netaji Engale,one of the survivors. He is from Osmanabad district’s Katechincholi village, 15km from the epicentre, Killari.
“My sister was found alive after two days and it was unbelievable. When I was pulled out after two hours, all I could see around me was people crying, all the houses were crumbled...” says Engale, now a scientist with Lupin, a pharmaceuticals company. He was 14 when the disaster struck.
Engale’s was one of the success stories from among the children who were driven out of Latur and Osmanabad that October day after the pre-dawn quake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale had left a trail of devastation across the Maharashtra districts.
Babasaheb Dudhbhate’s is another. An assistant professor of history at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Dudhbhate lost many of his relatives and friends in the earthquake. “I was sleeping outside after returning from Ganpati Visarjan...suddenly everyone was screaming and there was this huge scramble to get out in the open,” he recalls.
He can’t forget the day. “Even if we want to forget this incident, we cannot. Gone are the big banyan trees, the houses made of wood and mud, the hillocks where we would take the sheep for grazing. Nothing remains, except in our memories,” says Dudhbhate, 41, who previously taught in Mumbai’s Elphinstone College.
Umakant Suryavanshi, a 37-year-old clerk with Pune Zilla Parishad who has done an MA from Pune University, says, “I was too young to understand what was happening, and within minutes the entire village was wiped out.”
Engale, Dudhbhate, Suryavanshi and many others on board those buses 25 years ago are thankful to social worker Shantilal Muttha, the founder of Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana, which brought the children to Pune. Muttha’s organisation carried aid to the disaster zone after the earthquake.
“I would see these young children near our stall, blankly staring at the stalls and waiting for aid trucks carrying food, clothes, bedsheets, utensils.”
Muttha says the children needed to be moved out. Else “they could be scarred for life”. His group carried out a survey to identify the children who were willing to relocate. He got permission from the state government, led by Sharad Pawar, and the parents or guardians of the children. “We could only bring the boys as the villagers did not want the girls to leave,” he says.
Muttha built a residential school and college, Wagholi Education and Rehabilitation Centre, on 10 acres in Pune’s Wagholi. The school was inaugurated in November 1998. Many of these children studied there.
Here are the stories of Engale, Dudhbhate and Suryavanshi, in their own words:
Netaji Engale, scientist with pharmaceuticals firm Lupin
I am from Katechincholi in Osmanabad district, 15km from Killari, where the earthquake struck. The earthquake claimed the lives of 300 people from my village, which had a population of 500. I lost my mother when I was four years old, and was living with my aunt and uncle who died in this quake. I was buried under the rubble for almost three hours before my elder brother, who was in the farms, rescued me. We lived in a house made of mud. It was completely crushed when the tremors began and the hillock next to our house came down on us. I was 14 years old...after Ganpati immersion, I returned home around 10pm and slept inside next to my aunt. I was buried and I was shouting to pull me out. There was no response from my aunt, uncle and his friends as they died on the spot. My sister was found alive after two days and it was unbelievable. When I was pulled out after two hours, all I could see around me was people crying, all the houses had crumbled...
It took the rescue team some hours before they could reach us....it (the deaths of friends and relatives) left quite an impact, and it was impossible to come out of it. My family was not financially stable and there was no school left in the village after the earthquake. Thanks to BJS (Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana) for bringing me here (Pune).
Babasaheb Dudhbhate, assistant professor of history at Savitribai Phule Pune University
I come from Hasalgad village near Killari. On that night, I lost many of my relatives and friends. I was 16 then and eldest of three brothers and a sister. I was sleeping outside after returning from Ganpati Visarjan...suddenly everyone was screaming and there was this huge scramble to get out in the open.
We ran out in time as the inside wall of our house collapsed, and soon we saw our house crash. There was so much dust around us when the tremors were over. In 15-20 minutes, it was all over and we were left without a roof above our head.
Even if we want to forget this incident, we cannot. Gone are the big banyan trees, the various houses made of wood and mud, the hillocks where we would take the sheep for grazing. Nothing remains, except in our memories.
Umakant Suryavanshi, clerk with Pune Zilla Parishad
I am from Harali village, which has a population of 450. My village is 22km from Killari, where the earthquake struck. I was sleeping inside the house with my grandmother when we woke up to rumbling walls. We opened the door and ran out just in the nick of time, or the wall would have crushed us both. We ran into the farms along with the others. My parents were in Pune...I was 12 years old — too young to understand what was happening. Within minutes, the entire village was wiped out...it could never be the same for me. We lived in two tents for six months and had to wait for relief trucks for groceries and other items. So, when Bhau (Shantilal Muttha of the NGO BJS) came for a survey and asked us if we wanted to study, I went to my grandfather and convinced him to let me go. I was in a bus along with 52 others from my village. As I left my village, all I could think of was how I would help once I grew up.