Different parts of India experienced seismic activity on the early morning of July 16, 2020. An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.5 on the Richter Scale hit Rajkot in Gujarat at 7:40 am. Just after that, tremors were also felt in Assam at 7:57 AM. An earthquake was also observed in Himachal Pradesh with a magnitude of 2.3 at 4:47 AM.
The increase in seismic activity in the Indian plate also caused small quakes earlier in the year in Delhi as well as Gujarat. While these quakes have not caused significant damage, it is important for us to stay prepared if more devastating earthquakes occur, considering the fact that Indian plate is one of the most important tectonic plates which is very active.
Life is fickle. You never know which moment is going to be your last. Even if you think everything is well with you and your loved ones, a disaster may just come and strike you in a way that you may never be able to completely move past from it. I think everyone will be able to relate to this at this time when a global pandemic is shaking up and changing everything we knew before. People have started to refer to the pandemic as a benchmark and they refer to life as before and after COVID-19. This, however, is not a new experience for me for I have lived through the 2001 earthquake of Gujarat.
26th January 2001 was a black republic day for the people of Kutch – the largest district of India. An earthquake of 7.7 magnitudes on moment magnitude scale and X (extreme) maximum felt intensity as per Mercalli Intensity scale struck the region at 08:46 AM IST. The epicentre of the quake was in Bhachau taluka of the district – about 75 km away from Bhuj city which is the headquarters of the district and my hometown. The quake that lasted for roughly 22 seconds caused havoc that many of us have still not recovered from.
Republic Day 2001 – from the eyes of a nine-year-old
Republic Day meant a holiday for us in school. We did not have mandatory attendance to flag hoisting ceremony. 25th January was when our exams had gotten over and so republic day was to be the day of relaxing and playing. I had only just woken up from my bunk-bed when everything started to shake. I had no idea what it was. I had no concept of earthquake for that matter. Our first thought was that perhaps we were under attack since our district shares a border with Pakistan and it was republic day. Things started to get scarier when the shaking didn’t stop and we could see buildings falling down and ending up in rubble from our window. The 22 seconds that the quake lasted for turned our lives around to 180 degrees.
A row of bloodied dead bodies lying on the road was the first thing that I saw as soon as I stepped out of my building. The fear was such that all the emotions were frozen. A child of about 6 years old had lost his leg in the rubble. He was bleeding profusely. But there were no tears in his eyes. He kept staring at me and I at him. There was utter chaos. But the world kept moving in slow motion for me for the next few days.
I couldn’t feel anything as I heard that I lost all my friends and neighbours from the old house that I had lived in a month before the 2001 earthquake because the building fell down. That my friend’s brother who at the time of the quake was at my old house was among them. There were too many loses to count. However, many lives were saved because of humanity – that is, Citizen Social Responsibility on that day.
The disaster helped people see the importance of life. They let the greed for material things go. No one cared who owned what. Any vehicle they found, they used that to take the injured to hospitals. Religious and social volunteers immediately got together to arrange for thousands of beds in large compounds for many had lost their houses and those who had not been too afraid to go back. Living in tents, sleeping on the floor under stars, eating basic meals using hands was all normal for us – irrespective of castes, religion or financial status. Those few days, everyone in the city was equal – no one was rich or poor.
The schools were closed for the rest of the term. We were all promoted to the next class. There were a few missing faces in the class as well, for so many lives were lost. The official numbers say, around 20,000 people lost their lives. But for us, the residents, these numbers mean so much than just the number. The day was a black day for us.
Lessons learned from the 2001 earthquake – Disaster management
The republic day earthquake taught us many things on every level. Aside from the spiritual and the emotional lessons, it taught us a great deal about disaster management and preparedness. Because we were all on our own before the help arrived.
1. Dunk under a wooden frame – Many people lost their lives in the republic day earthquake because they tried to run outside of their houses to find safety. The ladders of the building are often suspended in the air, making them vulnerable at the time of the earthquake. Even the floors are not stable at such a time. The smartest thing to do to survive in an earthquake is to not run but dunk under a wooden frame. The frame could be a door frame or a wooden table.
This way, even if the building falls, the wood will protect the head and torso from getting seriously injured, thus improving chances of survival. It will also protect the person from getting electrocuted in case, there a live wire somewhere in the rubble.
2. Food Security – Food was one of the major issues for many that were either stuck in the rubble as well as others that had lost their houses or were scared to go back in them. While the help arrived soon for the quake, it is important to ensure that food is reachable at all times inside the house or office building if such a disaster were to repeat again. For this, keep a bar of chocolate or some nuts in every room of the house.
3. Move to open safe ground – More often than not, tremors follow after such a major earthquake for a few days. The buildings that have stayed put in the major quake may have damaged its foundation and can fall during the minor tremors. Therefore, it is wise to avoid staying in buildings. Thus, one should immediately move to open safe grounds, away from coastal areas.
4. Accepting Nomadic Life – The earthquake may displace the people for a long while from the city. It is therefore important to adapt to circumstances and accept a nomadic lifestyle. To facilitate this, pack an emergency bag with all the essentials and keep it handy at all times. This way you can be on the go anytime you want.
5. Check for updates – Tuning into the news on radio or television from time to time helps in getting updates regarding repairs, reconstruction or further threats. It is important for everyone to follow the government directives at such a time for efficient tackling of the disaster.
6. Be useful to the community – If you are not severely hurt, be useful to the community in any and every way you can. This is our responsibility as citizens and as humans.
Lessons learned from 2001 earthquake – Earthquake Preparedness
Bhuj as a city had many buildings before the earthquake. However, after, more row houses and independent houses are visible. The event has changed the skyline of the city to ensure that it is always prepared for earthquakes.
1. Earthquake resilient buildings and infrastructure – For earthquake-prone regions, earthquake-resistant buildings and infrastructure should be built. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for this. Every region must build structures using materials that are available to them or are produced locally. This way the materials are used to the topography, making it more sustainable as well as rigid. In addition to this, tall buildings should not be constructed.
2. Mock Drills – Considering the fact that earthquakes are common in India, the residents, as well as students, need to be taught about earthquakes in a detailed manner. Mock drills should be conducted in schools, offices and resident complexes. In addition to this, a course on disaster management must be taught at the school level so that students know what to do when disasters occur.
3. Learn basic first aid and CPR – Disasters often result in crowding at hospitals. The doctors and other healthcare workers are overworked and even then, unable to tend to everyone. At such a time, basic first aid and other healthcare procedures such as CPR or giving injections can come in extremely handy and even save lives in case there is an emergency but no doctor is free.
4. Learn a sport – Sports help in developing the instincts of persons. These instincts are very handy during disasters as they help in minimizing the damages and getting out of trouble safely.
Earthquake of 2001 had changed the outlook towards life of Gujaratis. Even today, we refer to our time as life before earthquake and life after earthquake. We understand how precious life is and how lucky we are that we have had the chance to live. But it is rightly said, ‘Once bitten twice shy’ because we firmly believe in being prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.