The earth beneath first grumbled and shook. Then came the more terrifying sounds resembling underground explosions. Soon, water gushed out of hand-pumps with great force. Brick walls cracked and mud houses collapsed.
For residents of this nondescript village in Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district, sitting atop one of the planet’s largest volcanic formations known as the Deccan Traps, doomsday seemed to have arrived.
People in Basner Kalan village, around 200 km from capital Bhopal, are living on the edge of panic and despair as a rare natural phenomenon has left them at its mercy for more than a fortnight now.
The Deccan Traps consists of layers of solidified volcanic rocks formed millions of years ago when huge rivers of lava flowed out of the earth’s crust and covered large parts of the present-day Deccan Plateau.
A recent international study has found that an asteroid crash 66 million years ago accelerated the lava flows in India, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs in these parts of the planet.
Geological experts called in by the district administration attributed the tremors and underground explosions to underground activity triggered by rainwater coming in contact with layers of red volcanic soil, formed by one of the biggest lava flows in Earth’s history.
“These ‘red bole’ (volcanic soil) layers swell and contract repeatedly when they come in contact with water, especially during the rainy season. Also, this activity might have activated underground aquifers, causing water to gush out with force,” said Dinesh Ganvir, an expert with the Geological Survey of India’s Nagpur office. “We are still analysing data collected from the area.”
For residents of the village, with a population of around 2,500, the underground activity has forced them to be on alert all the time, more so after the administration issued an alert asking them to follow the same precautions as during an earthquake.
“Strange underground noises are heard across the village at any time. Sometimes the noise is so loud that it sounds like dynamite blasts. Some of the kuccha houses in our village have collapsed,” said Girish Malviya, a villager. Though a similar phenomenon was noticed a few years, it subsided quickly and did not cause much damage.
Another villager Kushlesh Dharko said the pressure of water gushing out of the hand-pumps was similar to the force generated by a three horsepower motor-pump.
Residents informed that the phenomenon, which started around mid-September, also triggered a landslide and blocked the route to a Jain pilgrimage, the Muktagiri temples, situated in the same Bhainsdehi tehsil.
Sub-divisional magistrate Aditya Richariya said that though no injury or casualty has been reported so far, the district administration has asked the villagers to move out of their houses whenever they hear the underground explosions.