New Delhi, Oct. 1: Over six lakh people could die if an earthquake of the intensity like the one that devastated Shillong in 1897 were to strike the Northeast today, says a preliminary study by the National Disaster Management Authority.
These findings have prompted the NDMA to undertake a project, including a mega mock drill on how state and non-state agencies in the Northeast would respond in such a scenario.
The NDMA had undertaken a detailed project, Multi-State Earthquake Scenario, for a hypothetical earthquake of magnitude over 8 on the Richter scale at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh. The findings were, to say the least, scary.
“The estimated toll in Mandi is two lakh people according to the studies while in the Northeast it could be six lakh casualties, mostly in Guwahati,” NDMA vice-chairman Shashidhar Reddy said.
The findings found during the mock drill in Chandigarh (the biggest urban settlement that would be affected by the Mandi earthquake) has prompted a detailed study of such a scenario in the Northeast. A detailed study of a 9.1 scale earthquake will be undertaken by the North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST) at Jorhat in the second week of February 2014, sources said. The institute is expected to submit a report before the mega mock drill, on basis of which the exercise will be conducted, the sources said.
An internal paper in the NDMA says a revisit of Shillong’s 1897 earthquake is likely to present a very damaging scenario because of “polarization of population in the capital cities” and change in building typology in the region. Traditional houses and buildings have been replaced by “unengineered” concrete structures, the document states.
A map of the region has been prepared on the basis of R.D. Oldham’s Memoir on the Great Assam Earthquake of June 12, 1897, that laid the foundations of modern seismological studies.
The NEIST study aims to bring out anticipated impact on life and property and forewarn about challenges to be met. The project will undertake a scientific assessment of the vulnerability of the region to the impact of such an earthquake to facilitate capacity-building and multi-state coordinated preparedness for disaster management.
The Shillong earthquake had ruined masonry buildings over a large area and was felt from erstwhile Burma to New Delhi.
NDMA member T. Nanda Kumar, formerly agriculture secretary to the Union government, said gaps have been found on both counts — disaster risk reduction (DRR) and response.
“One saw buildings tumble during the Uttarakhand earthquake,” he illustrated, stressing the need for strict building norms by states.
The Himalayan seismic belt, extending from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, is seismically a very active region. Within a span of 53 years, between 1897 and 1950, four great earthquakes — Shillong 1897, Kangra 1905, Bihar-Nepal 1934, and Assam 1950 — exceeding magnitude 8 occurred in the region with vast devastation.
“However, no such earthquake has occurred since 1950 (but) studies indicate that enough strains have accumulated to generate magnitude 8 or larger earthquakes in the Himalayan region,” an internal NDMA paper has said. Therefore, the best approach to face such an incidence is to work towards developing an earthquake resilient society, the NDMA said.