When the whole country was busy with Republic Day celebration on January 26, 2001, Gujarat experienced a devastating earthquake that took life of more than 15, 0000 people and injured 3 lakhs or more as rescuers struggled hard to reach thousands of trapped survivors.
Nearly 390 school children were among the dead. BJP general secretary Namenda Mode said on returning from the tour that 13,000 had died in the Kutch region of Gujarat itself and 2,000 elsewhere in the State. The figure was confirmed by Defence Minister Mr. George Fernandez during a ‘visit to Buhl, the township closest to the epicenter of the quake.
Buhl was just 20 kilometers south-west from the epicenter of the quake. So, maximum damage had occurred to ‘Bhju itself. “Bhuj town’ is completely flattened and the district resembles a bombed zone” was the remark of Mr. Mode -after Ariel survey.
Several hundred houses in Bhju had been collapsed or on the verge of caving in. Cracks had been developed on almost all the survivors. The people of Bhuj spent nights in the open, braving the chilly weather. The situation was worst to believe in. But one thing is clear; this will be one of the monstrous earthquakes in recent history.
The Richter scale reading of the intensity of the Bhuj earthquake in the Indian Meteorological Department though was 6.8 but the United States Geological Survey and the Hong Kong Observatory recorded the figure as 7.9. China’s Seismological Bureau registered the quake- as 7.8 on the Richter scale.
The Earth Sciences Observatory in Strasbourg, France, put it at 7.6. Hence the Richter scale reading of 6.9 to 7.9 about the rate of the intensity of the earthquake was the worst quake and though the epicenter was near Bhuj, it also affected Bachau, Rapa, Ajar, Morbid-Malaya and Parts of Paten, Banaskantha and Mehsana districts in the Latch region extending even up to Ahmedabad, The 26th January quake was not the end.
There were nine tremors, measuring between 3.5 and 3.7 on the Richter scale shook parts of Gujarat including Ahmedabad and. the Kutch region on Monday, January 28, 2001: Panic- striken residents of the affected areas ran into the open fearing for their lives. The State meteorological department reported that there were 15 fresh tremors on January 28, 2001 alone, taking the total tremors since the earthquake on January 26, 2001 to 77.
Ahmedabad was also the worst hit. More than 12 hours after the first rumblings were heard thousands were camping in the open fearing aftershocks. Nearly 80 buildings were reported to have collapsed, including a dozen multi-storied building and also some buildings still under construction.
Nearly eighty persons were trapped to death in diamond polishing factories on Friday’s massive earthquake as the gates were locked from security point of view. The death tolls were 27,087 and 30 in Ahmedabad, Jamnagar and Rajkot respectively excluding more than 13,000 in the Bhuj areas itself over 50,000 people living in high rise building in the quake hit parts of Ahmedabad city their houses fearing termers by January 27, 2001.
Tremors were also felt across a vast tract of central and northern India, in New Delhi and Mumbai, as well as Chennai and Pondicherry. The quake also rocked four major cities in. Pakistan i.e. Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Hyderabad taking life of four persons.
Almost the entire country was rocked by Friday’s (January 26, 2001) earthquake. But it was Gujarat alone that bore its brunt. In Rajasthan, several historic buildings, including Jaywalker Fort were damaged. The back portion of the Salem Singh Ki Haveli near the Jaywalker fort collapsed. There were also reports of cracks in the walls of Cochran fort.
The rescue teams from all over the world had arrived in Ahmedabad immediately after receiving the news. The International Committee of Red Cross had dispatched a mobile surgical hospital to treat the victims; U.K. had sent a team of 69 rescue workers to Ahmedabad to search out the trapped persons. Germany, Russia, Turkey; Switzerland had also sent rescue teams, some of them had headed for Bhuj, where thousands of bodies were lying beneath the rocks. The foreign teams were equipped with sniffer dogs and life detector instruments to find out the survivors beneath the debris.
The Army was deployed immediately in the affected areas equipped with latest instruments to clear up the debris in Kutch. As-many as 68 giant earthmovers and cranes had been engaged in the affected areas.
The British Government had also pledged $ 4.5 million for quake relief. On his part, Prime Minister Aral Bihar Vajpayee sanctioned Rs. 10 crores from the PM’s Relief Fund. Kuwait donated 2.5 lakhs for the earthquake victims. Even Pakistan, our arch rival, had offered relief to the victims. Reliefs poured into Ahmedabad and Bhuj from USA, China, Turkey, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, and Japan.
The Gujarat earthquake was, in fact the worst one in terms of magnitude the country had experienced in more than 40 years. We have a long history of occurrence of earthquake, even bigger than the magnitude of Gujarat – one in Assam, on Independence Day in 1950 measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale.
A chronological list of occurrence of earthquakes in the past is given below:
- January 15, 1934— Strong quake near Bihar. Nepal border measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale. Extensive devastation in Kathmandu, Patna and Darbhanga.
- June 26, 1941— Heavy quake in Andaman Islands. The Richter scale reading was 8.1.
- August 15, 1950- 1,538 killed in earthquake measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale in Assam.
- August 20, 1988- More than 1,000 killed in Bihar.
- October 20, 1991 – More than 1,000 killed and thousands injured as earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale rocks Uttarkashi hills.
- September 30, 1993 – Around 10,000 killed and thousands injured in Latur and Osman Abad areas (Maharashtra) in quake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale.
- May 22, 1997 – 43 killed and over 1,000 injured in Jabalpur areas.
- April 23, 1999- More than 110 killed and Over 300 injured as an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale rocks Chamois, Rudraprayag and other hilly areas of Uttaranchal.
- January 26, 2001 – Buhl’s severe earthquake Measuring 6.9 – 7.9 on the Richter scale.
The cause of the devastating quake that flattened parts of Gujarat as expressed by the scientists was due to growing “intra plate” stress on the earth’s surface. A plate in geological terms is a large piece of the earth’s surface that moves around very slowly.
The surface of the earth is broken into large plates and the edges of these plates, where they move against each other, are sites of intense geologic activity such as earthquake, mountain building and volcanoes. Preliminary investigations by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) suggest that “intra plate” stress was due to “faults” or weak zones within the plate. ‘The whole Kutch is a fault. Bhuj, which bore the brunt of the nature’s fury, lies close to the all bund fault”- said by Mr. S.K. Srivastav, Additional IMD Director General.
According to him, “the Indian plate, as such, is moving in north-north east direction and colliding with Eurasian plate as a result of which the Himalaya is growing at its junction and leading to frequent earthquakes in the country.
However, the Bhuj earthquake seems to be due to stress within the plate where there are faults too. Besides, it falls under the Kutch region, which is the most seismically prone area in the country. “The misfortune is that, no technique is available to predict earthquakes with reliable degree of accuracy in space or time” as expressed by Dr. Srivastav.
Hence, India’s seismically most active regions are the Himalayan belt, the north east and Kutch. Delhi incidentally also comes in the next most active area category.