Wednesday, August 12, 2009

About today’s earthquake and the ones I remember well.

At about 1:25 A.M. (IST) today, few people who were awake along the coastal towns of Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, Machilipatnam and many other East coast towns up to Chennai experienced a mild tremor for about 3 seconds. Two earthquakes occurred around this time, one affecting South Asia and the other East Asia. The one that caused mild tremors in coastal Andhra had its epicenter in the Indian Ocean, 275 Kms. north of Port Blair at a depth of 33 Kms. Though the magnitude of the earthquake is 7.8 it has fortunately not caused any damage to the close by Andaman Islands, coastal Andhra which is over 1100 Kms. away or to many other surrounding countries. A tsunami watch was called for initially but within a short time this was negated.

As I got up in the morning all Telugu TV channels were filled with news of the earthquake. Even as scientists and Government officials were calming down agitated public since early morning, ruling out the possibility of a tsunami and higher intensity aftershocks the TV channels created a lot of confusion. TV channels interviewed agitated persons along the entire east coast who felt the mild tremor of 2~3 seconds and those along the seashore who thought the sea has receded or the sea has advanced and are seeing never before high waves and created enormous confusion. Once I went out of the house I found people normal and happy and least concerned with these false alarms and stories as no damage whatsoever has occurred anywhere due to this Indian Ocean earthquake – thank God.

In the past I witnessed three earthquakes in Hyderabad. I found the doors vibrating or a little tremor – a sort of mild shake and in one case a brief roaring sound but realized it is due to an earthquake only much later. Of these three the one that occurred on the night of 14th April 1969 was the most intense one. This earthquake of magnitude 6.5 occurred close to Parnashala near Bhadrachalam, which is about 375 Kms. by road from Secunderabad. First the power supply failed and almost simultaneously I heard a door vibrating for quite some time and thought that it was caused by our dog - Munna. But little later as people began to call and talk, I realized that it was an earthquake. However my parents and sister who were at Kothagudem just about 75 Kms. from the epicenter of the earthquake had witnessed a much higher impact. As lights went off and the intense tremors occurred my father realized that it is an earthquake and rushed everyone out of the house. At the same time there was heavy noise from hundreds of birds flying out of the trees in our house. Though this earthquake had caused damage to some houses in villages and towns around the epicenter it did not cause any harm to human or animal life. The other two earthquakes I felt were in 1982 and 1983. The 1982 earthquake of 3.2 magnitude had occurred at Gandipet in Hyderabad and the one of 1983 with a magnitude of 4.0 had occurred at Medchal, close to Hyderabad. Being of low intensity, mild tremors were felt but no damage was done to people or their properties. Latur-earthquake that occurred at about 4:00 A.M. on the night of 30th Sep. 1993 was experienced by many people in Hyderabad. Fast asleep I had no idea of this earthquake. Only in the morning I heard of this 6.3-high magnitude earthquake that killed over 7500 people and destroyed 30,000 houses in towns and villages situated around Latur which is just 230 Kms. from Hyderabad.

Hyderabad is classified as a Zone 2 seismic activity prone zone. This means that earthquakes up to 5.0 on the Richter scale can occur here. However the neighboring Bhadrachalam area is in Zone 3 where earth quakes of magnitude 5.7 may occur. Normally earthquakes of magnitude less than 6.0 are considered to be less dangerous and may mostly affect areas within about 20 Kms. As earthquakes are happening around the world all the time and the possibilities of it are there in Hyderabad all necessary precautions have to be taken. Especially the high rise buildings, the flyovers and the bridges have to be constructed to withstand such a calamity. And one day when our scientists are in a position to predict an earthquake well in advance; lives can be protected.

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