After the killer quake in Nepal, a deep anxiety is beginning to gw at people who live in multi-storeyed buildings in Guwahati and other towns in the State. What will happen to them if a similar event occurred in this region? After all, two quakes several times more powerful than the Nepal quake devastated Assam in 1897 and 1950. Historical records and old-timers’ accounts tell about ‘waves’ travelling along the earth at great speed so that crop-fields rose and fell like seas! The death tolls in those two great earthquakes were not high primarily because most people then lived in thatched bamboo huts or ‘Assam-type’ houses of timber and tin sheets. So when those humble dwellings collapsed, they did not cause much casualties. Within a short time, such houses were repaired at no great cost. But things are different now. Due to lack of space in areas becoming rapidly urban, multi-storeyed buildings are the only way left to house more and more families and offices. So if massive quakes were to hit Assam now, the destruction is difficult to imagine. If high-rises are not able to withstand huge shocks and collapse like so many houses of cards, will their residents stand any chances of surviving? To understand their situation, people must therefore know more about earthquakes. Firstly, such quakes occur on geological time scales, so the interval between any two major quakes may be several decades or centuries. Secondly, countries like Japan have learnt how to live with quakes, devising engineering solutions to build tall buildings that can withstand severe shaking. Several engineers here have pointed out that the technology already exists to make houses quake resistant. Those who wish to build houses should therefore take care to consult architects and engineers on this vital aspect, and ensure that builders carry out the blueprint properly. Thirdly, people in general should know what to do if an earthquake strikes. They should know where to take shelter inside the house if it is shaking, have an emergency kit ready, and keep their valuable papers and cards inside a strong, portable box that can be carried out swiftly. Likewise people outdoors should know how to keep a safe distance from tall buildings, mobile phone towers and electricity poles. Those who are driving when a quake strikes, should straightaway stop and observe some precautions. In case the worst happens and people are trapped under debris, there are some do’s and don’ts that can ensure survival. The chances for surviving a killer quake are always brighter for those who are ready.
food for thought