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Alarm rings after quake

Patna, Sept. 19: Thousands of buildings would collapse and result in death of many citizens if the state capital were ever the epicentre of an earthquake of the magnitude of 6.9 said chief minister Nitish Kumar today, after tremors shook north and east India yesterday.

While the chief minister and architects sounded alarm bells for the buildings in the city, builders claimed that all was well, as no tenement constructed by them had collapsed in yesterday’s earthquake.

The earthquake, with its epicentre 68km northwest of Gangtok in Sikkim, struck at 6.11pm yesterday and was felt as far away as New Delhi. Though no lives were lost in Patna, three children died in different places across the state because of the earthquake.

Nitish today said: “I believe that if Patna were the epicentre of an earthquake measuring 6.7 or 6.8, thousands of buildings would collapse and consequently lakhs of citizens would lose their lives. I have raised this issue many times since 2006. Patna falls under seismic zone 4. Those people, who are not constructing earthquake-resistant houses, are giving an open invitation to death.”

The principal secretary of the state disaster management department, Vyasji, agreed with the chief minister.

“No house in the state or even in the national capital — Delhi — is earthquake resistant. While the high-rise buildings (15m and above) are at a greater risk, none of the existing average-height buildings are retrofitted to sustain tremors’ impact,” he said.

Retrofitting is the process of strengthening of the existing structure of a building through appropriate design and construction for protection against earthquake.

Vyasji added that the disaster management department was prepared to deal with any calamity.

Architects in the state capital corroborated the fears of Nitish and Vyasji.

“As Patna falls under seismic zone 4, a majority of the buildings are vulnerable to an earthquake. Moreover, despite having norms to get the designs of every building approved by a structural-safety expert and an architect, the actual enforcement of the norms is hardly ever done,” said Vishnu Chaudhary, the honorary secretary of Bihar and Jharkhand chapter of Indian Institute of Architects.

He added: “If proper measures are not taken, a worse disaster can happen the next time an earthquake hits the state capital.”

Builders in the state capital, however, claimed that the buildings had successfully passed the earthquake test.

“No private building in Patna sustained any major damage during the earthquake. Thus, it can be said that all our buildings are safe and can successfully stand up to earthquakes of such magnitude. This also shows that builders are doing their bit in providing safe buildings,” said Sachin Chandra, the president of the Patna chapter of Builders’ Association of India.

He also had a word of advice for the state government. “No building can be completely earthquake-proof. Thus, the state government must ensure that it is ready to tackle any disaster.”

Claims notwithstanding, the state government is mulling to enforce precautionary measures to tackle earthquakes.

Nitish said: “We will make sure that all buildings in the state are earthquake-resistant. I have instructed different departments of the state government to make appropriate amendments to building bye-laws to make all the houses earthquake-resistant. The state government is also mulling options to come out with separate earthquake-specific laws. We will also conduct awareness campaigns on disaster management with emphasis on earthquakes.”

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