Quake toll rises to 71
Indications are strong for major earthquakes to strike South Asia, geological experts observed yesterday, a day after a 6.9 magnitude quake in Sikkim rattled the region, killing 71 people in India and Nepal.
A number of below-surface cracks, geologically known as faults, have made the region the most quake-prone in the world, with Bangladesh seen as the top-risk country.
While in silence, which geologists see as the lull before the storm, the faults accumulate energy over hundreds of years for release. The longer they stay calm the deadlier they get before going off.
The Main Boundary fault in the Himalayas just broke its silence, releasing some of its energy that sent a chill through parts of India, Bangladesh and Nepal on Sunday.
Experts, however, worry more over the silence of the other quake-makers in the region, of which three are in Bangladesh–the Modhupur fault (60km) in Tangail, the Dauki (230km) in Sylhet-Mymensingh and the Eastern Boundary fault (900km, Sitakunda in Chittagong to the Nicobar Islands). Then there are the 1,600km Western Region fault along India-Bangladesh-Myanmar border and the broken Indian-Burmese mass below the surface (geologically known as plate) to worry about.
Except for causing tremors occasionally, these faults have been silent for about 400 years.
“All these areas are major sources of earthquake. Enough energy should have been accumulated by now. It’s not possible to predict when but it is safe to say that disasters are due in the region,” Prof Humayun Akhter, head of Earth Observatory at Dhaka University, told The Daily Star last night.
Another leading earthquake expert, Maksud Kamal, a professor of geology at Dhaka University, shared Humayun’s concern, terming the long silence of these faults ominous. “It is natural for earthquake to occur at intervals of around 20 years. And wherever in the region it hits, Bangladesh will be within a radius of 300km to face non-characteristic earthquake of 6-7 magnitude on the Richter scale.”
The three faults within Bangladesh have been assessed as capable of producing temblors of up to 8.5 magnitude. Different surveys have found the Modhupur fault the riskiest, which can cause 7-7.5 magnitude earthquakes.
Though the Sikkim quake has spared Bangladesh this time only with jolts for nearly two minutes, the future looks grim for the densely-populated country with unplanned urbanisation on under-developed lands.
A 7.5 magnitude quake in Modhupur can wreak havoc in Dhaka, only 50km away. “It can destroy 30 percent of the buildings in Dhaka, kill about two lakh people and trap another three lakh in no time,” said Prof Humayun, spurring the government on disaster preparedness.
Modhupur apart, both the Dauki and Eastern Boundary faults can cause quakes of 8.5 magnitude.
As part of its disaster management plans, the government has decided to train about 62,000 people on rescue operation.
Humayun, however, thinks the government and the media should focus more on an extensive awareness campaign, telling people about the do’s and don’ts during earthquakes. “First, people should learn how to protect themselves. Rescue comes later,” he added.
-With The Daily Star input