As the sun set on the small courtyard, the soft sobs started to turn into wails. It was time to take the body of Geeta Rimal, 19, away for cremation.
Geeta, who read in class-XII, was alive when she was pulled out of the debris after Monday’s earthquake had crushed her house in P Moulding Part 1 village in Senapati district, 22 km from Imphal. She died on the way to hospital.
“She was sleeping next to me,” said an inconsolable Jashoda Devi, 59, Geeta’s mother. “As the earth began to shake, we woke up. But before anyone could open the front door, the house had already collapsed. We managed to crawl out but Geeta was stuck inside. It took about half an hour or more for some men to pull her out.”
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“Geeta was breathing when we pulled her out, and even when we took her to the hospital about an hour later,” said her elder sister Pabitra Devi. “But by the time we reached the hospital, the doctor said she was dead. She was a very good student, and would have got a first division in the exams.”
Geeta’s father Rupnarayan Rimal, 65, is a petty farmer in this village, situated on a hillside close to the Army’s 57 Mountain Division garrison. Part 2 had 22 houses, all made of mud and boulders. Only six of them remain standing, and two of even these have slanted after the earthquake. “All three parts of this village taken together, 37 houses have collapsed,” said Seilun Khongsai, gaonburra, or headman, of the village.
“Down the hill, in village Chingmang, Debamaya Mote, 56, and her granddaughter Darsha Mote were trapped when their RCC house collapsed,” said Khongsai. Neighbours realised this only after daybreak and it took them two hours to retrieve the bodies.
In Imphal city, Aruna Devi found herself trapped on the first floor of her three-storey building. “I was fast asleep and woke up only when I heard Maa shouting,” said her son R K Ewansana, 20, home for the holidays from Pondicherry Engineering College. “When I opened my eyes, I saw the ceiling just about a foot above me. I thought it was a dream. I came to my senses only when I heard my sister Nitazasana too shouting. It took a lot of time to drag Maa out; her foot was stuck.”
Aruna Devi has fractured her right foot. Her husband R K Lansana is an executive engineer in the state PWD, which is, ironically, responsible for construction and maintenance of government buildings.
“I don’t remember ever experiencing such a tremor. I faintly remember the great earthquake of 1950, but today’s was very big,” said Lansana’s mother Bino Shija Devi, 71, who was in a smaller, adjacent house. Only one other building collapsed in the city.
Ima Keithel, the historic all-women market, was shut down indefinitely after several pillars of the main building developed cracks. A side wall also collapsed.