Raj Patel Sr. of Plainfield Township, Penn., was riding on the back of a motorcycle on a dirt road on the morning of Jan. 26 with his cousin in Anand, India, when the earthquake hit.
Suddenly the two were jolted off the bike. Patel, 65, said he thought it was a flat tire. Later he learned it was a 7.9 magnitude earthquake centered about 200 miles north in Bhuj.
The next day, Patel went to the city of Ahmedabad to visit family and saw hundreds of dead bodies scattered throughout the city.
Ahmedabad is about 150 miles southwest of Bhuj, the desert town at the center of the massive earthquake.
"This was the first time I saw something like this in my life," said Patel, who was in India for several weeks visiting family. He returned Jan. 29. "When I saw the rescue workers bring out the bodies from under the rubble, I could not eat all day. It made my stomach hurt."
He said no one in his family was injured.
India hasn't experienced such a devastating earthquake since August 1950, when a 8.5 magnitude quake killed 1,538 people. This earthquake stretched at least 1,200 miles into neighboring Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Patel's son, Raj Jr., and Dr. Rajen P. Oza are establishing a relief fund for the people in India who lost family, friends and property. The money will go toward a group called BAPS Care International.
Oza, whose office is in Wilson, lost a cousin in the town of Vastrapur.
"My cousin went in between the slabs of the building to save her daughter," Oza said. "She moved her daughter out of the way and was crushed by the building. It's a tragedy. I will definitely help others who have lost loved ones like myself."
For Patel Sr., this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
While in Ahmedabad, Patel saw thousands of people sleeping, crying and bleeding in the streets. He saw children eating scraps of food off the ground.
"People are basically living on the streets," he said.
His worst memory is of a little girl with blood covering her body and a mother being pulled out of a 10-story building that sank to four stories.
"I saw that little girl being pulled out, and I thought 'Oh my God, that poor little girl.' But her arm moved, and I knew then she was OK," he said. "Then the mother came out. But there are others who didn't make it."
Patel said about 90 rescue workers from Switzerland brought construction supplies and rescue dogs to aid in the mission. He said the workers removed debris while pulling out survivors and corpses.
"Since there are so many people in the streets without homes, there is not much room to cremate the bodies," he said.
About 90 percent of the buildings in Gujarat are destroyed, Patel said. The buildings that remain standing are leaning "like the Tower of Pisa."
Patel brought back two Indian newspapers showing photographs of bodies in the streets. The Jan. 27 edition of Gujarat Samachar said of 400 people scheduled to get married, half died and half are still being accounted for.
In the Jan. 28 edition of the same newspaper, a full-page ad highlights about 10 people looking for relatives who are missing.
On the morning of Jan. 29, Patel returned to the States, but until then, Patel Jr. hadn't heard from him since the earthquake.
"I was worried for three days," he said. "If he didn't came back [on the 29th], I was going to use the little bit of money I have and go get him."
Patel Jr. said his cousin in Ahmedabad called him Jan. 29 while Patel Sr. was in the air. "I was glad to get that phone call."
"I was happy to be home with my family," Patel Sr. said with a smile.
To help relief efforts in India, call 1-800-301-5594 or visit www.baps-care.org. Checks may be mailed to BAPS Earthquake Relief Fund, P.O. Box 891449, Dallas, Texas, 75389-1449. All donations are tax deductible.