Scientists do quake mock-ups, warn of a million deaths in northwest India

  • Sanjib Kr Baruah, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 28, 2015 20:33 IST

Swathes of northwest India will be reduced to heaps of body bags if an earthquake a tad stronger than the 7.8-magnitude Kangra Valley earthquake of 1905, identical in intensity to Saturday’s Nepal monster, occurs now, say scientists.

Similarly, close to a million people in the Northeast will be entombed by hills of rubble if a quake similar to the one that struck Shillong in 1897 strikes again.

But first, the disclaimer: these are not forecasts but hypothetical scenarios published in National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reports based on separate simulations of the Kangra and Shillong quakes that collectively killed more than 21,000 people over a century ago.

Second, a repeat disclaimer: science has yet to give humanity a technology to predict an earthquake in advance. NDMA and other agencies depend on science-based scenarios, however alarming they may look or sound, to assess risk factors.

The July 2014 report says about a million people in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab will perish if an 8-magnitude earthquake epicentred at Mandi strikes at midnight when most people are sleeping indoors. And nearly 5 million will suffer injuries, serious or slight.

The catastrophe will wipe out 2.35% of Himachal’s population, says the nearly two-year study conducted in 2012-2013 by IIT-Bombay and IIT-Kanpur professors. It was part of a presentation by the country’s top disaster-management agency that the Prime Minister chairs.

“We replicated the 1905 Kangra earthquake and superimposed it to current times. We studied factors like the intensity of vibrations, building structures such as mud, timber or brick, and collected in detail data on the number of houses, people, etc. to arrive at conclusions with a reasonable amount of accuracy,” said research team leader Ravi Sinha, who teaches civil engineering at IIT-Bombay and is also a top earthquake expert.

Considered one of the six most seismically active regions in the world, the Northeast has seen some of the biggest quakes in history — Shillong in 1897 and Assam in 1950.

The NDMA report prepared by the Jorhat-based CSIR-Northeast Institute of Science and Technology says Assam will top the casualty list with 6 lakh deaths while Arunachal Pradesh will suffer the least, mostly because of its low density of population.

Ranju Duarah, chief scientist at CSIR-NEIST’s geo-science unit, said the findings were based on a scientific assessment of the region’s vulnerability to any 1897-class earthquake. “Our focal areas of interest in simulating the scenario are populations, housing structures and local geology.”

Read: Indian landmass slid under Nepal by several feet during monster quake

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