1/26/2001 India Earthquake

Updated 2/4/2001

An earthquake measuring 7.9 Magnitude hit the city of Bhuj, a desert town of 150,000 people in Gujarat state near the Pakistani border in western India at 0316 GMT (8:46 AM local time) 01/26/01.

Over 15,000 people are confirmed dead with 55,000 injured. The death toll could go as high as 30,000 to 35,000 according to relief agencies. The official estimate puts damage at over $4.5 Billion. Descriptions of the area nearest the epicenter are of total devastation. Over 100 buildings collapsed. Medical facilities were overwhelmed by the casualties, with hospitals themselves suffering devastating damage. People are being warned to avoid going back into their houses for fear of further damage from aftershocks, which have been numerous. Some aftershocks have been has strong as 5.9 Magnitude. Nine days after the main quake, aftershocks are still powerful enough that they threaten the collapse of still more buildings and send panicked people rushing out into the streets. Authorities are worried that many buildings are in dangerous condition and have banned people from entering them. Highrises are leaning and could collapse at any time. As is usually true after a quake of this magnitude, there are aftershocks several times a day that tend to keep people on edge, even when they don't cause more damage.

The quake was felt as far away as Nepal, 1,000 miles to the north and Bangladesh, 1,200 miles to the east. Buildings swayed in New Dehli (600 miles, 966 Km away), where Republic Day(India's Independence Day) celebrations were just about to get underway. In Gujarat 350 children participating in a parade were buried as buildings collapsed on them. Most of the casualties were in Gujarat state, although there were some in other parts of India and in Pakistan. The quake was the most powerful to strike India since Aug. 15, 1950, when an 8.5 magnitude temblor killed 1,538 people in northeastern Assam state.

Electric, Gas, Telephone and Water services were knocked out throughout Gujarat. After a few days service was restored in the major cities but outages continue in the hardest hit areas. Authorities said that the 2 nuclear power plants in Gujarat were not damaged. Thousands of the dead were from Bhuj, where 90% of the buildings sustained damage and more than half the buildings have been destroyed. AP reports 1/26/01 "In Ahmedabad, a center of India's textile industry, as many as 50 multistory buildings crumbled. Hundreds of people besieged the fire station asking for help to dig out their relatives, said fire chief Rajesh Bhat" Rescue efforts used both heavy cranes and people digging by hand in a desparate attempt to save loved ones. Nine days after the quake there are very few people being found alive. Thousands are leaving the area on foot due to a lack of food, water and shelter. There have been allegations of shoddy building practices being responsible for some of the damaged buildings. the government promises to investigate this.

The Indian Government is sending 10,000 tents and shipments of grain to the region. International aid has been offered from many countries, including Pakistan, and the United Nations is sending an evaluation team. The government is treating the emergency on a war footing, asking people to rally around to help. The military is taking a leading role in getting supplies to the quake area and treating the wounded. Two naval hospital ships are being used to treat injured people. The Air Force is flying in 40 flights a day with food and medical supplies. Two days after the quake authorities are worried about the spread of disease due to inadequate sanitary facilities and thousands of unburied bodies, although the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there are no diseases transmitted by dead bodies. There is a lack of firewood for cremations but more is being brought into the area. Many small funeral pyres burn throughout the area. Contaminated water is being blamed for an increase in diarrhea but there have not been any major outbreaks of disease. There is still danger of the spread of cholera or malaria due to poor living conditions for survivors. Respiratory illness is common due to people having to live outside in cold weather. Many villages did not receive help until a week after the quake. Efforts have so far been concentrated in the cities but the Prime Minister has now called for more help for the countryside as well. The government has come in for strong criticism in the hardest hit areas for not asking for international aid sooner and for not getting help to outlying areas for days after the quake. Desperate people have clashed with police over distribution of food.

This quake was caused by the movement of the Indian Plate as it moves northward into the Eurasian Plate. The quake had a shallow focus as the earth's crust adjusted to the strain caused by this collision. Gujarat is located on the Western edge of the Indian Plate near the intersection of the Eurasian Plate and the Arabian Plate. Although the collision of the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate has created the Himalayas, this quake was cause by the plates in the area slipping past each other. (See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.)

See also the following news stories:

1/13/2001 El Salvador Earthquake

Updated 2/20/2001

At 11:34 AM local time (1734 GMT) 1/13/01 an earthquake measuring 7.6 Magnitude with an epicenter in the Pacific Ocean 65 miles 110 km) off the coast of El Salvador. The nearest town was San Miguel. Unlike the 1986 7.5 M quake that devastated the capital, San Salvador, this quake caused extensive damage mostly in the countryside. The quake was felt across El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras and as far north as Mexico City. As is common after a large quake, there have been frequent aftershocks, some of them up to 5.7 Magnitude. People are sleeping in the streets for fear of further damage to their houses. President Flores is urging calm, dismissing rumors that aftershocks could cause tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. He said that although the danger is not past there are not likely to be anything as strong as the original quake. There have been additional building collapses and landslides triggered by aftershocks.

Over 1,000 people are confirmed dead, 2500 injured and 750,000 homeless. 141,000 houses were destroyed. The homeless are living in refugee camps with no where to go. President Flores ordered 3,000 coffins from Columbia immediately following the quake. 500 of the fatalities were people trapped in a landslide in San Tecla outside of San Salvador. A hillside collapsed, covering up to 500 houses. Rescuers hurried to uncover the houses in the hope of finding survivors. The BBC reports that residents claim that construction of the houses had been done improperly, undermining the hillside. Early efforts were hampered by lack of equipment. Roads have been blocked by landslides, communications are difficult and power is out throughout the country. The airport was closed for a day or two after the quake due to heavy damage to the passenger terminal. Many buildings have collapsed, including a church over 100 years old. 50,000 people have been evacuated from dangerous areas due to fears of further landslides. According to the BBC 1/16/01 "As many as half of the country's six million people are without water supplies, the Pan-American Health Organization said. Efforts are being intensified to get food, blankets and tents to those made homeless. Improvised shelters of canvas and plastic have been erected and the army is distributing rations of rice and beans."

President Flores has declared a national disaster and called for international aid. Total damage from the quake is estimated at $1.3 billion, over 15% of the annual economic output.. Mexico was the first to send a rescue team, followed by Taiwan, Switzerland and many other countries, including the USA. Taiwan sent a rescue team formed after their 1999 disastrous quake. Relief supplies include helicopters, dogs trained to find buried victims, food, blankets and money. After about a week the focus changed from rescue to relief . Bodies were being buried as quickly as possible in mass graves to prevent the spread of disease. There is an urgent need to care for those displaced by the quake. There has been some speculation that deforestation due to extensive logging destabilized hillsides and increased the severity of the landslides.

CNN reports, "A 22-year-old man was rescued after he alerted searchers by tapping for hours on concrete debris that had fallen on him. Another trapped man escaped death by using a cellular phone to call for help and inform rescuers of his location."

Geologically the quake was caused by the subduction of the Cocos Plate under the Caribbean Plate. The Cocos Plate is one of the remnants of a larger plate to the east of the Pacific Plate. The Juan De Fuca Plate, off of the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States and British Columbia, Canada, is another remnant of that plate. These plates are subducting under the neighboring plates to the east and will eventually be entirely consumed, as it was off the California coast where the Pacific Plate is now directly against the North American Plate in the San Andreas fault zone. (See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.)

See also the following news stories: