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Goalposts and blankets comfort quake survivors
by Staff Writers
Gangtok, India (AFP) Sept 20, 2011

A patchy sheet of tarpaulin slung over some football goalposts to keep out the rain was hardly Amrita Laqandri's idea of home for her family -- but at least it felt safe.

And for the 32-year-old housewife, along with a dozen relatives, including parents, uncles, aunts and cousins, safety was all that mattered.

Like hundreds of other residents of Gangtok, the capital of India's northeastern state of Sikkim, she and her extended family chose the city's football stadium for their second night in the open following the powerful earthquake that hit the region on Sunday.

"The stadium is our kitchen and bedroom for the night. We're honestly just too scared to consider anything else," Laqandri said, as she helped make tea and warm bread on stoves brought from their home.

The wife of a police officer, she simply shook her head at the idea of sleeping in their home which was among hundreds in Gangtok damaged by the 6.9-magnitude quake that killed at least 35 people across the state.

After a night and day of repeated aftershocks, Laqandri said Gangtok was rife with rumours that another large quake could hit the city at any time.

"It's better to sleep in the open than lie awake worrying all night inside a room," she said. "When I feel a bit safer, then I'll go back home."

Conditions in the stadium were at the bottom end of basic, with the pitch soaked by days of monsoon rains which kept up a steady drizzle throughout the night.

The smart cars and SUVs parked outside the ground testified to the democratic power of the disaster that had left the well-off as homeless and frightened as the poor.

Sandeep Gurum, an official in the state's animal husbandry department, also decided the stadium was the best option for him, his wife, brother and four children, and even the family dog.

When the earthquake hit, Gurum and his family ran out of their house as the television set was thrown to the floor by the force of tremors which left large cracks in the walls and ceiling.

"My wife's scared and I don't want to risk the lives of my children. We can't go back yet," he said.

Using yoga mats as protection against the wet ground and blankets to ward off the chill, they held umbrellas to shield themselves from the rain as they ate food purchased from an enterprising eatery that had managed to keep serving.

After an initial 24-hour power outage, electricity was restored to Gangtok early Monday evening, and the stadium lights afforded a sense of comfort and security as night fell again.

Put off by the prospect of the waterlogged pitch, some opted to see out the night on the stadium's terraces and seats.

In Gangtok proper, many residents stayed outside but close to their homes, searching out the company of friends and neighbours and swapping stories of what happened when the quake hit.

Nanchu Lepcha, a grocery shop owner, worried over the state of his store in the city's main wholesale market, Lal Bazar, which was badly damaged.

"There's a lot of reconstruction to be done and for now I need to put in some supports to stop the ceiling from falling down," he said.

Gangtok is 68 kilometres (42 miles) southeast of the quake epicentre, which was located in a remote region on Sikkim's border with Nepal.

On a hillside overlooking the city, a group of teenagers had gathered with guitars and sat around singing, waiting for the sun to come up.

"Nobody wants to go home and sleep or talk about the earthquake. We're better off here, singing and playing music," said college student Reema Parjul.

Parjul said a large boulder had fallen on his house after the earthquake.

"The ceiling is cracked like a spider's web. I'm not sleeping there," he said.

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At least three dead in Guatemala quakes
Guatemala City (AFP) Sept 19, 2011 - A large 5.8 magnitude quake and two smaller temblors that struck near the capital of Guatemala Monday have claimed at least three lives in the nearby city of Cuilapa, rescuers said.

"For the moment, we have three dead and various others who have been buried" in rubble, said William de Leon, a spokesman for the volunteer firefighters.

Authorities said mudslides were reported in some areas after hillsides saturated by recent rains gave way.

Landslides cut off access to one of the country's major highways that leads to El Salvador, authorities said.

Seismologists at the United States Geological Survey said the biggest of the three quakes hit at around 12:34 pm local time (1834 GMT), and was detected at a depth of 39 kilometers (24 miles), with its epicenter some 52 kilometers (33 miles) southeast of the capital Guatemala City.

It was preceded and then followed by smaller, but still sizable temblors, both measuring 4.8 on the Moment Magnitude Scale.

The quakes were felt as far away as neighboring El Salvador, where there were however no reports of injuries or damage.

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China punishes officials over deadly explosions
Beijing (AFP) Sept 16, 2011
Authorities in eastern China said Friday they had fired a top official for failing to resolve a drawn-out land dispute with a man who is believed to have set off three deadly explosions. Another official resigned from his post over the incident that took place in May in Jiangxi province's Fuzhou city, killing four people - including the alleged perpetrator - and injuring 10 others. Xi ... read more

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