More than 55% buildings in Uttarakhand’s four biggest urban settlements could be flattened in an eight-magnitude temblor due to faulty constructions, underlining the threat to human lives in a region where the next big earthquake is expected to strike.
Surveys carried out by the state’s Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre (DMMC) in Mussoorie, Nainital, Bageshwar and Joshimath – all popular tourist spots -- showed that around 56% of all buildings in the four hill towns are not earthquake-resistant, officials told HT.
Both Indian and international experts are unanimous that the Himalayan belt could witness a devastating earthquake very soon as the “stress” exerted by the colliding Indian and Eurasian continental plates have reached a tipping point.
In geology, tectonic plates are huge sheath of landmass deep below Earth’s surface which are always in horizontal motion. Uttarakhand lies right on top of a 700-year-old ‘fault’, the area under the surface where the plates are colliding.
The last major earthquake in the state had struck Chamoli district in 1999, leaving over 400 people dead.
Another DMMC survey conducted two years ago had also suggested that an earthquake in Mussoorie could lead to the death of more than 400 people in the hill station due to building collapse. If the state is hit by a quake of a magnitude more than 8 it will cause loss of properties worth almost Rs 236 crore in Mussoorie and more than Rs 110 crore in Bageshwar and Nainital.
Experts say that buildings non-resistant to earthquake in any part of world are responsible for almost 90% of human casualties during a temblor. Uttarakhand has a population of 12 million people.
Experts and officials of the disaster management department said that most constructions in the surveyed cities date back to the time when the concept of seismic safety was not well developed.
“It would neither be feasible nor practical to recommend replacement of these buildings irrespective of their extent of vulnerability to earthquakes. Only massive awareness drive for retrofitting measures to be adopted by the building owners can help in mitigating or minimising future earthquake impact,” said Piyoosh Rautela, DMMC executive director and geologist. He is part of the earthquake vulnerability assessment drive of buildings in the state.
The DMMC is currently preparing a database of buildings with seismic vulnerability in capital Dehradun city, surrounded by Himalayas from three sides.
Santosh Badoni, deputy secretary in the state disaster management department, said that the DMMC has also conducted 10-20 days’ training programs for masons on quake-resistant techniques of building construction.
“Bedsides earthquake resistant building bylaws framed by the government, the department also has its own standards of retrofitting techniques for buildings,” Badoni added.