A flurry of posts on social media and messaging platforms claimed another powerful earthquake was set to strike India in the wake of the devastating temblor in Nepal , prompting the government to caution the media on Sunday against speculating about aftershocks.
Messages posted on Facebook and WhatsApp claimed scientists and authorities had predicted another quake would hit India, particularly the northern part of the country, within hours.
But experts made it clear that earthquakes cannot be predicted. Scientists can only estimate the probability of earthquakes in zones with high seismic activity, they said.
Saturday’s 7.9- magnitude earthquake killed more than 2,400 in Nepal and 66 in India. Besides flattening wide swathes of the Kathmandu Valley, the tremors caused damage in parts of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Nepal and many parts of north and east India were jolted by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock on Sunday.
One message that did the rounds on WhatsApp said: “North India will face next earthquake at 8:06 pm Govt of India is saying not to go in their houses (sic). The next richer (sic) scale of earthquake will be 8.2 News from NASA.”
Yet another message posted on WhatsApp on Saturday claimed Bihar would be hit by a 13-magnitude quake. Similar messages were posted by many people on Facebook.
In an apparent response to such posts, the government advised the media on Sunday to exercise restraint in speculating about aftershocks.
An advisory issued by the external affairs ministry said such speculation could cause panic and complicate relief efforts.
“In view of the coordinated efforts of Government of India agencies to evacuate stranded citizens, and to provide relief in the wake of the Nepal earthquake, it is requested that media houses may exercise restraint in speculation about possible aftershocks,” the advisory said.
“Undue speculation may cause unnecessary panic complicating relief efforts. The Government of India assures that it is making all efforts to provide relief and evacuate stranded citizens in time.”
Anirban Chakraborty, a research scholar at the Disaster Prevention Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan, debunked the messages on social media with predictions of another quake.
"You can never predict an earthquake," Chakraborty told Hindustan Times. “Prediction is a tough business. It’s never easy to exactly predict the location of the next earthquake.”
Though millions of dollars were invested in this field, now almost nobody wants to hear about it, he said.
“Even if you predict a possible area (for a quake) and the error in the location is so much that you evacuate people needlessly, the next time nobody will even care about such predictions," Chakraborty said.