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85-year old recalls the 1950 'Assam-Tibet earthquake'

Natural disasters are unavoidable and can be a spine-chilling memory for the survivors.


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  16 May 2021 6:36 AM GMT

Angana Majumdar

(The writer can be reached at

Natural disasters are unavoidable and can be a spine-chilling memory for the survivors. With the earthquake of 6.4 on the Richter scale hitting Assam on 28th of April 2021, people across the state reminiscent of the 1950 earthquake that shattered Assam to bits and pieces.

The 6th biggest earthquake of the 20th century was the 1950 Assam–Tibet earthquake, also known as the Assam earthquake. It occurred on 15 August 1950 evening at 7:39 pm and had a magnitude of 8.6 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was located in the "Mishmi Hills", south of the 'Himalayas in the North-East Frontier Agency part of Assam. Severe damage occurred in the 'Sivasagar-Sadiya' area of Assam, India and the surrounding hills. About 70 villages were destroyed in the 'Abor Hills', mostly by landslides. Large landslides blocked the 'Subansiri River. This natural dam broke 8 days later, creating a wave 7 m (23 ft) high which inundated several villages and killed 536 people.

In an interview with one of the survivors of the great 1950 Assam earthquake, she narrated her harrowing story. The survivor is Renu Majumdar, an 85-year-old woman from Guwahati, Assam exclusively shared her experiences and live visuals on the devastating disaster. When she was asked to share her experience on the recent earthquake of 2021 which occurred on the morning of 28th April 2021, she expressed that the recent earthquake made her remember the great 1950 Assam earthquake, even though the 1950's tremor was more intense compared to the recent one.

Renu Majumdar was 14-15 years old during the time of the 1950 Assam earthquake. She used to live in the area of Uzanbazar, Guwahati with her family. It was the 3rd Independence Day of India.

"We experienced a strong tremor and a loud sound in the evening. The house started trembling suddenly and the ground started shaking violently. During that time, my father was returning from the 'Adya Shraddha' of our first Chief Minister of Assam

'GOPINATH BARDOLOI'. My father told us that he used to fall from his bicycle during the tremor of the earthquake, thinking it to be due to blood pressure. The whole night at the interval of some time, the tremors used to shake us. We could not sleep that night. People used to gather on the streets and open fields. All we could do was chant prayers and call for God's help. The mighty Brahmaputra was next to our residence, we saw big ships, boats, fishes were washed to the shore due to the tsunamic disturbances in the river bed", she says.

Renu Majumdar also described in the interview that the smell of Sulphur gas surrounded the bank of the 'Brahmaputra River' the next day of the earthquake. Large numbers of dead animals, river dolphins and turtles could be seen floating in the "Brahmaputra River" that were killed due to excessive Sulphur. The GMC (Guwahati Municipal Corporation) warned the people not to consume those dead fishes since they were poisonous. The Brahmaputra changed its course and submerged half of 'Dibrugarh', Assam.

"We got to know later, that the epicentre of the earthquake was in the area of 'Sadiya', Assam and large parts of the 'Parashuram Kund' which is a Hindu pilgrimage site situated on the Brahmaputra plateau collapsed after the massive earthquake. I heard from my father that the Great Assam earthquake of 1950 destroyed the railroad bridge in the Lakhimpur district, cutting the main connection between Assam and the rest of the subcontinent", says Renu Majumdar.

Large numbers of people and animals were killed due to the massive cracks caused due to the shake. The earthquake also resulted in devastating floods with muddy water. Large numbers of uprooted trees were seen gathering in the area of "Saraighat" which resulted in people being able to walk through the river areas. In the areas of "Sadiya", due to the earthquake, the tall coconut trees got buried into the soil to such an extent that people could directly pluck the fruits from the ground. The aftershocks of the earthquake continued for several months.

"I heard from my paternal grandmother about the great '1897 Assam earthquake' which shattered the entire Assam and was much more disastrous compared to the 1950's one", says Renu Majumdar.

At the end of the interview, the narrator was asked to suggest some ways to rescue and protect ourselves from earthquakes. She elucidated that during the days of the 1950s, there were very fewer numbers of RCC houses and buildings so there were almost no cases reported on destructions and deaths of people caused due by the collapse of houses. Since people of Assam reside in an earthquake-prone area, so living in small "Assam type houses" is one of the ways of saving ourselves from devastating earthquakes. People should keep an emergency supply kit in their homes which should include drinking water bottles, flashlights, first aid box and make sure all family members know its location. Also, being patient and courageous at the time of an earthquake is another way of rescue.

About the speaker:

Renu Majumdar was born in the year 1936 at North Guwahati, Assam. She has matriculated from Gauhati University. A booklover Renua Majumdar keeps her updating herself with the latest news all over the world. She is also an active social media user in her mid-1980s. She is an adventurous woman and also in the year 2020 on the day of International Women's Day (8 March 2020), she visited 'Mayodia Pass' which is located in Arunachal Pradesh near the China Border, with an elevation of 2,655 m above sea level. She currently leads a happy, peaceful life and stays at Guwahati, Assam with her children and grandchildren.

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