The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Islands shaken and forsaken
Tremor after tremor, but GSI door shut

Port Blair, Jan. 4: Thailand and India, comrades in grief. One fires its chief meteorologist for failing to issue a tsunami warning; the other shuts down its Geological Survey of India office as shock after shock shakes the ground beneath its feet.

As the umpteenth aftershock rattled the Andaman and Nicobar Islands this afternoon and sent terrified people scurrying for life, a few who looked to the GSI for answers found the gates of its ramshackle office closed.

'Can you imagine that when people are so afraid of earthquakes and tsunamis these people have actually shut the office and left' screamed 45-year-old Ananth Kumar, who had hoped someone would be around in the Port Blair office.

Nine days after the ocean turned assassin and wiped out over 15,000 people in India alone, the administrative apathy post-tsunami looked much the same as it did before it.

Three tremors ' measuring 5.3, 6 and 5 on the Richter scale ' shook the Andamans between 1 am and 6 pm but there was not a soul in the GSI office and only two out of 25 staffers in the Met office to offer consultation ' let alone consolation ' to anyone.

'What is the use of having offices which do not function' When the whole world is fighting to save tsunami victims, the people we need the most for consultation are gone,' a government official said.

Only yesterday, the Prime Minister had said scientists could not remain spectators to natural disasters; last week there had been questions why India had not signed up with a tsunami-warning group.

So far, no action has been taken to increase accountability, as in Thailand where the Met boss was sacked for not doing his job well.

The only positive step India has taken is it has sent a team of geodetic surveyors to 'study how the contours may have changed or islands may have (been) shifted by the impact of the earthquake'.

There have been countless queries whether the continuing tremors --- there have been over 96 moderate and some 200 slight ones --- indicate a bigger quake is impending. But Port Blair is unable to give answers: it does not have the equipment to analyse data, so all readings are sent either to Calcutta or Delhi.

There is only a senior meteorologist and an assistant meteorologist in the Met office in Shadipur, which is a km from the GSI building. There is no one of the rank of director as senior officers refuse to be posted here.

'We need several centres to analyse a seismograph reading and then locate the epicentre. We cannot do it on our own, that's why we send it to other stations,' said K.K. Das, the assistant meteorologist.

Asked why the equipment had not been updated, Das's colleague D.C. Gupta said: 'It is up to our headquarters to update the base. What can we do about it'

The two geologists in the GSI office --- Giridharan and Tapan Ghosh --- are believed to have left for their hometowns. 'I don't know where they've gone. They told us they would be back only in March when everything settles down,' said Sunil, the local watchman.

As it stands now, the GSI building is tilted to one side. The wooden columns holding it up have cracked. The director's room is in bad shape and the washrooms have collapsed. 'Please don't go that side. It's totally broken,' said Kartik, another local.

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