BY DR PREETI TALWAR
The ground shook like never before
Towers swayed and bridges buckled
The people around were unaware,
Of the wall of water in the air
The power of nature so pure and evil
Thousands dead in seconds
Only for the rest to be killed slowly
By man-made troubles
The people will never be the same.
It was 11th September, 6.18 p.m. I.S.T, the place Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim. I was enjoying the salubrious weather with the family. A lazy Sunday, a cup of hot latte, potato wafers and soulful music playing, what more could one ask for? I just hoped time would stand still but soon my reverie was broken by a groaning,moaning and dragging sound. The cup of latte did a somersault, rose and fell to the ground, teetered, tottered and was smashed to smithereens. The L.C.D jinked, the wall clock did a jig and furniture moved. I was taken aback but in a trice I came to my senses, I knew we had been hit by a quake, but could not go down the steps of my second floor apartment, till it ceased. The minute it ceased we rushed down to be met by a humongous,crowd on the narrow street. Anxiety written on each face and then lo behold, the power supply was cut off, water pipes burst, no water supply and to top it all, the mobile towers had got destroyed ,so communication came to a halt. Everyone looked scared and prayed to the Almighty. Soon we got news that Sikkim had been hit by a 6.8 magnitude quake and chances of aftershocks were there, so we were advised to stay out, in the open. Now mountainous regions have serpentine roads,very little open space, so we all huddled together in the only space available. The night we camped out in the open, night brought more aftershocks milder than the major one, it became cold and a drizzle began an after effect of the quake. It was a cold, hungry, fraught with fear night but we could do nothing. Adversity makes mankind come closer, we fought our woes together. At the crack of dawn, we heaved a sigh of relief and rushed indoors. But what a sight cracks had developed in the building from floor to ceiling, buildings had tilted like the Leaning Tower Of Pisa. The once beautiful place had been destroyed. The pristine beauty of the place had transformed to rubble, debris,bodies buried in debris, animal carcass. A pall of gloom had descended on the hustling bustling place. Thousands of lives had been lost,roads and bridges had been washed away and only one could see devastation all around. I was too shaken up after this episode and only thanked the Almighty for sparing us from the wrath of nature. The minute I left the place I felt at peace.
25th April 2015, 11.55a.m I.S.T, a lazy weekend and I was chilling with a glass of lemonade and a intriguing novel, when suddenly my bed danced in the air, as if lifted by an ogre, fish started getting restless in the fish tank, dogs started barking incessantly and I knew again we had been hit by a quake. As soon as it ceased we were outdoors, all neighbours had come out. A few people who had been driving were worst hit, as their cars soared, high, yawed and came down with a thump, a la Herby. The news channels started airing the news of a 7.5 magnitude quake,which had hit Nepal and we too had experienced those tremors in the north. Thousands of lives had been lost and thousands had become homeless.It was hear wrenching to see loss of lives. Buildings in these places are not according to B.I.S standards, so face immense damage.
I want to know is the country waiting for another catastrophe to rouse from slumber to find means to deal with such eventualities. After these two quakes which should be better prepared to reduce the damage that could be caused by another natural calamity.
Earthquakes are more common phenomenon in South Asia, geologists can only anticipate regions where they may occur but not when they will occur. Nepal and other countries in the Himalayan region are prone to quakes. Himalayan region is also susceptible to landslides and flash floods.
Ways to reduce earthquake damage are well known:
- Ensuring compliance of building codes
- School safety drills
- Open safe zones for evacuation
But we have not implemented these on a large scale. Countries like Japan and New Zealand have shown preparedness to combat earthquakes. They have minimised damage to a large extent.
Experts have warned that India’s capital New-Delhi- which sits on the same fault line as Nepal would be devastated by a high magnitude quake, as the city’s poorly designed infrastructure would collapse, causing large scale human and economic losses.
Knowledge of how to build earthquake resilient structures is not sufficient, implementation is the key. Is a lack of resources a valid reason for not implementing solutions? There are low cost solutions which can be used in the context of resource and technological constraints. For e.g old tyres can increase the resistance of buildings in a quake, it can preserve the environment and mitigate disaster and reduce cost.
Japan has 1500 earthquakes a year and the citizens have found innovative ways to tide this problem. They are using carbon-fibre ropes, carbon fibre is tough and pliant, it can render buildings to be quake-resistant. Mexico another quake prone place has devised concrete structures, with concrete sheer walls which when connected by coupling beams dissipate energy during a disaster, like a large quake. They are using low cost sensors which send updates via an app, which can give a warning and save lives.
Japan has regular mock drills in schools, how to get under desks while a quake lasts or gather in the middle away from the school building, they also practice in earthquake simulation devices,emergency chutes are used to get to the ground level from the top level. A few schools in India too have started this mock drill but more schools should join to prevent damage. Even bullet trains in Japan have a system with seismographs which shuts down the train at the first sign of a quake. All gas appliances are turned off during such a time and people are asked to stand beneath a door frame from falling debris. They have regular quake education which includes seminars on medical treatment, fire extinguishing and finding one’s way out of a smoke filled building.
A few pointers which should be taken into consideration during a quake:
- Take shelter under heavy furniture.
- After shaking stops turn off gas sources.
- Be aware of broken glass and debris.
- Find way out of the building after it ceases.
- Don’ t rush out in panic.
- Keep away from brick walls
- Seek official information from T.V and radio.
- Before evacuating turn off electricity.
If Japan and Mexico can take innovative measures, we too can do the same. I survived unscathed but I wish no one goes through such a trauma.
Picture Credit: Save the Hills – blogger
Video Credit: You Tube (Japanese Earthquake Drill at School, The Story of One Thousand Earthquakes)