Gujarat Earthquake 2001: Case Study
Gujarat is a state in the north western part of India. Beneath India, the Indo-Australian and the Eurasian Plate are moving towards each other at about 2cm per year. Both plates are continental, so this is a compressional boundary where both the plates are pushed up to form fold mountains The Himalayas are the most obvious result of this collision. Along with the creation of fold mountains, the movement of the plates creates stress within the rocks. When the stress is suddenly released by rocks slipping past each other, we experience an earthquake.
The epicentre of the Gujarat earthquake was a small town called Bhuj. At 08:46 local time, on Friday 26th January 2001 it was struck by an earthquake that measured 7.9 on the Richter Scale It turned out to be one of the two most deadly earthquakes in the recorded history of India, with almost 20,000 people confirmed as dead, and another 166,000 injured. Add to that a further 600,000 left homeless, almost 350,000 homes destroyed and another 844,000 damaged and it becomes obvious that this was a major humanitarian disaster. The Indian government has calculated that in one way or another, the ‘quake had an effect on 15.9 million people – nearly half the population of India!
The cost of the damage varies depending upon who’s figures you use, but it was between 1.3 billion and 5 billion US dollars. In built up areas modern buildings were shaken but mostly survived. Others, however, including several multistory concrete buildings collapsed. Because only some of the new buildings collapsed, the government suspected that dodgy building methods may have been the cause. Investigations led to a number of builders, architects and engineers being charged with culpable murder and criminal conspiracy.
Before the quake this was a rather dry area often affected by drought. After the quake there were many reports of the water table rising, sometimes to surface level. In a number of places new springs appeared, some with fresh water and others, more surprisingly, with salt water. Some desert rivers, that had been dry for over a century, began to flow again, and there was evidence of liquefaction in many places.
Transport and Communications
Access to the sites of earthquakes is always likely to be restricted by the damage caused by the quake, because ground movements damage roads and railways. Damage to roads affected the transportation of goods to the 40 or so ports along the Gujarat coastline.
Bhuj was no exception and suffered from very limited transport after the earthquake. Even days after the quake, the rescue services had not managed to gain access to all the remote villages that suffered during the earthquake. Roads were cracked, lifted and warped, but most obstructions in built up areas were caused by debris that fell onto roads. Where there was a possibility of survivors under the debris, it was out of the question to just bulldoze the rubble out of the way; it had to be carefully and slowly removed, leaving roads blocked until there was no hope of finding survivors.
Telephone lines were broken, exchanges damaged and power lost to the telephone system. In many remote areas mobile telephones don’t work, so all forms of communication with ‘difficult to reach’ places were out of order. Repairing phone lines took time, and the process wasn’t helped by blocked roads, damaged buildings and the loss of workers killed or injured in the event.
Gujarat was the second most industrialised state in India, with well developed diamond, pharmaceutical, chemical, textile and steel industries. Although most survived the quake with little or no major structural damage, they were disrupted by the destruction of communications, transportation and electricity / gas supplies. Immediately after the quake, industry was losing about 200 million dollars every day.
The huge loss of life also had an impact on industry because many of the dead were workers in local businesses.
” The lives lost would impact the (businesses) as many employees would have been a victim of the tragedy,” the Confederation of Indian Industry said in a statement.
As with many large earthquakes, services like water, gas, electricity and sewerage provided through a network of underground pipes and cables were damaged when the ground flexed and moved. Broken pipes and cables led to loss of fresh water, sewerage discharges and no power in many areas. At the epicentre, in Bhuj, 95 percent of the town was left uninhabitable, with no water, electricity or shelter.