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Mega Mock drill (Pics)– Does Shimla City stand a chance against predicted Mega Quake?

In reality, if seismologist and research data is to be believed, Shimla city has already dug its grave by undertaking haphazard, unplanned and unauthorized construction on steep slopes that still continues unperturbed.

SHIMLA- On Thursday, as claimed by administration, a Mega Mock drill was held at seven districts, Shimla, Solan, Mandi, Kullu, Kinnaur, Chamba Kangra that fall in seismic zones IV and V. The mock drill was crucial considering the prediction of Mega-Quake in Himalayan region by experts that could turn most of Himachal into graveyard within seconds. Some critics (readers) would call the long predicted “Mega Quake” pessimism while others would believe writing about it can create panic among people. But that won’t change the truth. All that can be done is to be prepared and brace for it.  In fact, experts at the Union home ministry’s disaster management have warned of a bigger catastrophe.

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Himachal Watcher also witnessed the mock drill conducted in the capital city Shimla. Including five other chosen locations, mock drill was also held at the DC Office Shimla. As expected, the drill was conducted very casually and the team members took their time while climbing stairs and recovering injured (posed).

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Photo by Tarun Sharma, HW

Though, the major focus should have been earthquake, it appeared more about emergency response in fire breakout. Apparently, most of it was for official records. In reality, if seismologist and research data to be believed, Shimla city has already dug its grave by undertaking haphazard, unplanned and unauthorized construction on steep slopes that still continues. The government has complemented it by approving retention policy under which it is legalizing such structures on the name of relaxation.

According to DD Sharma of Himachal Pradesh University, an earthquake of bigger magnitude in Himachal Pradesh during night hours would bury 2.40 lakh people alive. The number would be around 1.6 lakh in case the quake hits during morning hour. Congested localities like Sanjauli, Lakkar Bazaar, Shimla Bazaar, Tutu, Chakkar etc. that are build on steep slopes would fall down like pack of cards.

Even the IGMC hospital building is built in vulnerable zone and would instantly turn into rubble, the roads will be blocked with no chance for emergency vehicles, and the power stations would be down leaving Shimla in dark. Considering the unsafe clutter of concrete buildings, it won’t be possible to recover dead bodies.

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Predictions by Seismologists and Researchers

During past decades, several national and international research institutes, geologists, and seismologists had been repeatedly warning about massive tectonic movement in seismically active 600 km long Himalayan belt. Entire Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand will be worst hit as they fall in seismic zone IV and VI. No expert is able to predict any date, but they have shown confirmation in their predictions based on various historical and contemporary data.

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InfoGraphic: Times of India

We also find reference to quake prone zones described in ancient Indian literature. It can’t be coincidence that current data on present day zones of earthquake concentration matches with the this literature.

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InfoGraphic: HP Disaster Management

International expert, Roger Bilham, the seismologist of University of Colorado suggested that “the current conditions might trigger at least four earthquakes greater than 8.0 in magnitude. And if they delay, the strain accumulated during the centuries provokes more catastrophic mega earthquakes.”

According to Bangalore’s respected Indian Institute of Science (IISc), North India is vulnerable to a powerful earthquake. The quake could arrive sooner than expected and wreak more damage than previously estimated.

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For decades, seismologists have suggested that a massive quake (exceeding magnitude 8.2) is imminent. They have mostly predicted the epicentre somewhere between Kangra (Himachal Pradesh), Bihar and Nepal. These zones are referred to as the central conflict zones. As per the IISc scientists, the last major quake that rocked the region happened 500 years ago, whereas their calculations and on-site excavations suggest that such a quake happened 1,000 years ago.

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Review Literature

In the past 90 years, 250 quakes of magnitude 4 and more than 60 with a reading of 5 on the Richter scale have rocked HP and adjoining states of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Uttarakhand.

On April 4, 1905 an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude had wreak havoc in district Kangra. It killed 20,000 people and 53,000 domestic animals perished along with one lakh houses. Back then, the economic cost of recovery was estimated at Rs 29 lakh. Currently, it would impossible to even estimate this cost.

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Between 2002 and 2008, Central Himalayas, if records to be scanned, had recorded over 1,100 earthquakes of magnitude 3, several quakes of intensity 4, and nine quakes of magnitude between 5 and 6. In 2016, many more have added to the list including sever Bhuj quake in 2001 that had claimed about 20,000 lives. In 2011 Sikkim was jolted by a 6.9 magnitude quake, in 2015, a 7.3 intensity quake almost erased entire Kathmandu, and in 2016 Manipur faced a 6.7 intensity quake.

However, this time these quakes, as per researchers, re-ruptured the plates that already had cracks. Now, instability of these plates forms the basis of ‘Mega Quake Prediction’ for Himalayan region including Himachal Pradesh.

Intensity of Predicted Devastation

“In our research work, where we have revisited the Himalayan region, an earthquake of larger magnitude happened 1,000 years ago and so the strain could be building up. So it (the quake, when it happens) has greater potential to be dangerous,” said Kusala Rajendran, one of the researchers of the study and faculty member at the Centre for Earth Sciences at IISc.

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Photo by Tarun Sharma, HW

Consequences of Mega Quake

If an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hits Himalayan region, it is capable of releasing 30 times more energy than the one in Bhuj, Gujarat, in 2001,that killed at least 20,000. The researchers warn that pressure is building up in the region’s crust and it could be released far more powerfully than previously imagined, .

Such quake can turn the tourist town Shimla into rubble as 14 major localities are situated on an average slope of 35 to 70 degrees with peak population density of 2,000 to 3,000 per hectare. All these localities fall in Zone IV (High Intensity).

The Only Hope

According to D D Sharma of Himachal Pradesh University, frequent occurrences of low intensity earthquakes are good because they help in releasing the seismic energy and does not allow accumulation of energy, which later results in earthquakes of bigger magnitude and intensity. “It is said that a big earthquake revisits after a gap of 50 years and in Kangra district for last 110 years no major earthquake has occurred. It was in 1905 when 20,000 people were killed in Kangra so threat of a major earthquake is more in that area,” he added.

The purpose of conducting statewide mock drill was to gauge the efficacy of disaster management plan and capacity of the emergency services. It also helps in maintaining trust of public in administrations capacity. Though, most of the regional and national dailies only reported the event without pointing out toward the weaknesses or overall performance during the drills, it’s pertinent that a unplanned, crowded place like Shimla City now hardly stand any chance against high-intensity earthquake.

Moreover, it’s a bitter truth that Himachal Pradesh is nowhere close to being prepared to tackle such powerful seismic shock as predicted. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) also acknowledges this reality.
If journalists could spare some time to actually observe the mock drills, they would have found persistence of crucial shortcomings in the preparedness levels because of the overall complacency towards this subject (preparedness for high-intensity earthquakes).

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Photo by Tarun Sharma HW and Dheeman Gaur

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