Three days after an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck Manipur, Tamenglong, which was at the epicentre of the tremor, is still in shock. The affected areas in the district have poor road and mobile connectivity, resulting in people struggling to report the damage incurred.
The long and winding roads of Tamenglong district, which are framed by jagged mountains that frequently hit by minor landslides, give an ominous feel on the highway leading to Noney, around 70 km from Imphal. A further 55 km uphill from Noney lies Nungba, which has been hit the heaviest.
All along the highway, it is common to see illegal quarry work, with workers chipping away at the hills without any concern for safety, despite Tamenglong being at an altitude of 1,260 m and prone to frequent landslides during the rainy season.
“Instead of improving the quality of the lives of people in Manipur, the government has bigger plans for the state in the form of mega dams, oil mining and national railways. The plan to build four mega dams in the district is fraught with the absence of consultation and the consent of the communities,” said John Tingenlung Pamei, former All Zeliangrong Students’ Union president.
Apart from buildings constructed or sanctioned by the government, the damage to houses in both Noney and Nungba were mostly minor cracks, with only two houses sustaining severe damage. At Pongailong Nongmai village, Pantijailiu, 45, who was mourning the loss of her eight-month-old granddaughter two days before the quake, is now grappling with the shock of the walls of her home falling around her family, leaving four injured.
“The earth trembled badly and when the walls came crashing down, we were all panic-stricken. We shouted and neighbours rushed in to drag out my family members who had been trapped in the room,” she said.
Neighbours are unhappy with the lack of aid for Pantijailiu’s family. “Apart from the villagers who took the injured all the way to Imphal for treatment, there is no one from the administration who has come to help them,” said a local.
Meanwhile, assurances from the Manipur government over taking measures to address the fall out of the earthquake have fallen flat as the situation on the ground is one of confusion and a lack of coordination. On the ground, people living in affected areas where the temblor led to buildings and government buildings falling down, the expectation is that the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) will step in to clear debris.
At the Nungba police station, part of earthquake epicenter where five rooms collapsed on Monday, , case files and other office peripherals including seven computers and furniture lie buried under rubble. Pointing to locked rooms containing debris, Inspector John Lamkang, officer in charge, said, “We have not allowed anyone to enter inside but will wait for the NDRF team to reach and clear this.”
However, an NDRF team official based in Imphal said in a telephonic conversation that the mandate for the NDRF would be the search and rescue of people and livestock. “To clear the debris, the state government machineries, including the Public Works Department and civil departments would have to step in and work along with us,” he said pointing out that clearing debris would involve specific equipment, including JCBs and cranes.
With experts in the Union home ministry’s disaster management warning of a bigger catastrophe with earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.2 or greater on the Richter scale set to hit the Himalayan region, the terrain of the hill districts in Manipur remain at great risk.