Durbar pride comes in way of accepting relief Saturday, February 17, 2001
DHAVANA(Surendranagar): Not everyone is running after truck-loads of relief as televised images and photographs of the earthquake-hit regions may portray. In village after village of Surendranagar, one community, one of the worst affected in the quake, has turned back trucks loaded with grain for one simple reason - their pride.
The sarpanch of Dhavana village, Ashok Sinh, walks tall between collapsed houses; his back erect, his eyes unblinking and no show of grief. This, despite the fact that all the 50 'Durbar' (Rajput) houses here have either fallen or are too dangerous to live in. One woman died on January 26 here, while many had been injured. And yet they turned back a number of people who came with food.
"We will live in huts, do anything, but we will not eat grass," he says. "We are a giving tribe, not created to accept alms."
While Tikar, barely 30 kilometres from Dhavana, has received all the attention with even Congress president Sonia Gandhi visiting it in one of her customary helicopter dashes on Wednesday, Dhavana has received scraps for government relief.
Twenty days after Black Friday the mamlatdar released 80 kg of wheat, 30 kg of rice, 10 kg of chana dal and two kg of potatoes per ration card for the 3,500-strong village.
"We are planning to feed it to the birds," the sarpanch says. "We can't distribute relief only among a handful residents."
When the Jhalama Unnati Astha, run by the erstwhile prince of the region Meghrajsinhji, wanted to help the community, the organisation had to do so by first convincing the women.
"With the men not coming forward, women relief workers would have to access the women from the backdoor," he says. "The teams would have to state that Siddhbapa (as Meghrajsinhji is known) has sent the relief material. Then the pride would be less of a hindrance. Durbars can accept relief from other Durbars".
Yet the villagers would take only what was necessary. At Samla village just outside Limdi, 80 per cent of the homes have collapsed, the worst-affected again are the Durbars. All that remains are the skeletal remains of what were once their homes. Here again help was refused. They sent back even foreign teams wanting to help initially.
"I had to tell them with folded hands that if they consider me their bapa (father) they should accept help," says erstwhile ruler of Limdi Chhatrapalsinhji. "And yet they accepted only plastic tents and blankets to ward off the biting cold at the edge of the Rann of Kutch."
Relief workers at Ankewadia village had the same experience. "Food we have," the residents told them. "Give us shelter."
Interestingly, the government has released a paltry Rs 450 per household in Surendranagar to repair homes. Given in instalments of Rs 10 for 15 days, it can't even cover a tenth of the cost here.
In Dhavana alone, barely 10 homes are standing. Ashok Sinh says 586 homes have fallen and "Rs 450 will definitely not fix them."
Meghrajsinhji provides an insider's view of the Durbar mentality. "They preferred to hang on to their pride in all circumstances over the centuries," he says. "They would not compromise on their values and change, resulting in their alienation from the mainstream. Slowly, they also lost their fortune leading to the condition they are in today."
Architect-planner Ravindra Vasavada who has been working extensively in Surendranagar confirms that the Rajputs have been worst-affected. "The region was originally known as Jhalawad, after the Jhalas principalities which ruled the region," he says.
"As a result, Rajputs were in large numbers in these villages starting from Halwad at the edge of the desert down to Dhrangadra, Morbi, Wankaner and Limdi." The spirit of the people is such, he says, that they are confident of rebuilding their lives without government help.
New water found in Kutch sure to be of Himalayan origin: Negi Saturday, February 17, 2001
AHMEDABAD: A senior scientist working with the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) at Hyderabad says he firmly believes that the sweet water, which has surfaced in areas of Kutch after the tectonic upheaval, would be of Himalayan origin. "I am sure if this water is examined it will be found that this is of Himalayan origin, having sediments which are found in the Himalayas," he said.
Dr J G Negi said satellite pictures which show crestal fissures with water clearly suggest that Kutch was once part of a huge delta which perhaps had paleo channels of both the Saraswati and Indus. He says one reason to find out whether the water in Kutch was of Himalayan origin was to establish whether the water now surfacing in the area had originated from these two rivers. Once so established , it would be easy to find through dating analysis if it is Saraswati or Indus water, because while the former vanished over 4000 years ago the latter changed course only two centuries back.
Negi, an emeritus scientist at the NGRI, said Kutch has been going through tectonic upheavals in a 200-year cycle extending right to 10,000 years ago and this may have forced these rivers to change course several times. The first major earthquake recorded in Kutch was in 1668 which measured 7 on the Richter scale followed by the one in 1819 of 8 magnitude and now the January 26 earthquake which, he still believes, measured 8 or 8.1.
He said it is clear from historical evidence that the 1819 earthquake had changed the course of the Indus, which now flows through Pakistan, with the creation of Allahbund. Besides, some 4000 years ago, the Saraswati also dried up after a series of earthquakes which changed the course of Yamuna, once a tributary of the Saraswati, which merged with the Ganga.
He said the recent earthquake had thrown up tremendous possibilities for geological studies in not only Kutch but the entire Gujarat area. He said the developments in Kutch should be seen with the excavations in the Saurashtra region where archaeologists have dug up at least four layers of Dwarka. "It appears that the city of Dwarka was rebuilt at least four times in a period extending from 2nd century BC onwards".
He said it is possible that with every transgression and regression of the sea, which happened in a 550-year cycle, Dwarka got submerged. "Gujarat is a peculiar zone where the transgression and regression of the sea together with tectinoc upheavals brought about a complex mixing of saline and fresh water over centuries, it not only wiped out civilisations but also changed the course of rivers several times over, once again there is an opportunity to study these trends in detail."
Removal of debris poses a Herculean task Saturday, February 17, 2001
RAJKOT: The Rajkot and Kutch district administrations are at a total loss as to how to remove the debris from the worst affected Kutch and Morbi-Maliya areas. According to a rough estimate, the debris weigh a whopping 500 lakh tonnes.
Highly placed sources overseeing relief operations in these affected areas told The Times of India on Friday that the debris of almost three lakh houses were yet to be removed.
The authorities have still not decided where to dump these debris. In Kutch, some of the concrete slabs are being dumped on the Bhuj-Nakhatrana highway.
According to an estimate, even with the current load of bulldozers, dumpers and trucks pressed into service, it would take more than five to six months to remove the debris completely.
Each truck has a capacity of lifting 10 tonnes of debris while a tractor can lift five tonnes.
Many officials are contemplating recycling the debris but the state government has not worked on the subject.
GujaratPlus.com Special - Earthquake Lessons for YOU Friday, February 16, 2001
As the tremors continue to shake Gujarat, the Earthquake Technical Assistance Cell of the City Managers Association of Gujarat has produced a ready-reckoner on how to repair your building after an earthquake. These FAQS were formulated by Ismet Khambhatta of the Environmental Planning Collaborative, an urban planning organisation.
When can I enter a quake-damaged building?
One should stay out out in the open immediately after an earthquake. Ideally, one should wait for the aftershocks to subside. But aftershocks can last for days or weeks. As building inspections take time, the United States Applied Technology Council and the US Geographical Survey offer the following tips and guidelines:
The greater the magnitude of the earthquake and the stronger and longer the shaking, the greater the chances for strong and numerous aftershocks.
If the damage after the main shock was heavy, the site is more likely to experience additional damage from the aftershocks.
A main shock large enough to cause damage will probably be followed by several aftershocks within the first hour.
Aftershocks decrease in number and magnitude over time. Generally speaking, the second day will have approximately half the number of aftershocks as the first day and one-tenth as many on the tenth day.
Except for life-saving rescues, entry into seriously damaged buildings should be avoided during the first 24 hours following a main shock.
If you have to enter a damaged building, the stay must be very, very brief.
As a general rule, following a 6.5 or greater earthquake (on the Richter Scale), a period of at least three days should elapse before one enters a damaged building. Five more days should elapse before the building is occupied for fixed periods of time.
What should I do if my building is damaged?
You must get a structural engineer to visit the building and assess the damage. Obtain a set of structural drawings of the building from the builder. This will help the structural engineer to make his assessment.
Do not try to patch up cracks with plaster or cement as they will not strengthen the structure. In fact, it will only mislead the engineer who comes to assess the damage.
Try to get an independent opinion, in addition to the opinion of the builder or contractor who has constructed the building.
Could you give me some tips that will help me understand how a building behaves during an earthquake? What kind of questions to I need to ask the engineer who examines my building?
In Ahmedabad, for example, most multi-storied buildings are column-beam frame structures. This means they are composed of a system of columns and beams walls which are not load-bearing. Generally, load-bearing masonry (brick) walls are most susceptible to earthquakes. In all cases of damage, it may be unsafe to occupy the building. The good news, however, is that a lot of this damage can be repaired, depending on the quality and technological acumen with which it is done. Severely damaged buildings may have to be demolished. In all cases, it is advisable to get the opinion of a structural engineer.
While trying to figure out how your building is doing, the first thing you should check are the columns at the lowermost level, on the ground floor. If your building has parking below, then these are completely visible to you. In case you don’t, then you should obtain the blueprint of the floorplan of your building, locate the columns and go through them with your neighbours. The most serious damage that a building can undergo is when its columns are damaged due to what is known as shear, which is the principal force exerted on any structure during earthquake. To give you a basic idea, shear is what happens when you try to bend two ends of a stick towards each other -- normally, the stick will break sideways. Structures are also subject to torsion shear: torsion is what you do to your wet clothes when you wring them to get the water out.
The first thing you must look for is cracks which are at an angle of 45 degrees or more from the vertical, ie horizontal cracks, in the columns.
If the cracks are closer to the ground, chances are that the foundation may also be damaged. Parts of the foundation may have to be dug out for inspection.
Starting from the bottom, you should slowly move up, checking each inch of the structure carefully. Basically, the higher the cracks, the safer the building and the lower the cracks, the greater the damage. Of course, all cracks must be repaired. For instance, if there is a crack on the columns holding the water tank at the top of your stairs, these columns could actually collapse during a subsequent quake or aftershock.
If the beams are cracked, this is relatively a less serious problem, since it affects only that particular floor at a local level and does not necessarily compromise the whole structure. On the other hand, it is pretty dangerous if there are cracks at the joint between the column and the beam and it shows on the sides. This means that the column itself may be cracked.
It is not very dangerous for a structure if the walls have fallen down or are cracked. Basically, this doesn’t really matter as you can break the walls and rebuild them. In a column-beam structure, walls are not really an essential element. But if there is debris around a column from a broken wall, you should clear the wall area thoroughly and inspect damage to the columns. Don't worry if you find that the pipes have cracked; they have no structural strength.
Can damaged RCC and brick buildings be repaired?
Yes. But this depends on the extent of the damage to the structure, which can be assessed only by a structural engineer. These repairs are called 'retrofitting' and help not only in making an existing building liveable, but also makes it strong enough to withstand a quake of a similar intensity in the future.
Damaged concrete buildings, as revealed by cracks in beams and columns, can often be repaired after a quake. Small cracks can be repaired with injections of epoxy compounds. Damaged columns can be “jacketed” with steel cladding to prevent further deterioration or a larger column can be cast around them. Some buildings, however, might suffer serious damage and might require to be demolished, even if they are still standing after the quake.
Do not undertake any repairs without the opinion of a structural engineer.
How do you find out if a building is earthquake-proof before you buy it?
Ask the builder for a full set of structural drawings (every resident or occupant of the building is entitled to a complete set of drawings). Get an independent structural engineer to review the drawings and give you a 'second opinion' -- just as you do with a doctor.
If you are still a prospective buyer, ask for a complete list of specifications to ensure overall safety and sound construction.
Can a building with a 'safe' structural design be weakened through careless construction practices?
Yes. Time tested practices like soaking bricks in water before use, washing aggregate and sand, limiting the height of the brickwork done at a time, vibrating and curing concrete sufficiently, filling each brick joint with mortar, using staggered brick joints are all 'sound' construction practices that have been neglected in the rush for 'quick' construction. This often results in weak structures that are then covered over with cement plaster. The plaster hides the flaws and gives an illusion of solidity and soundness.
If I renovate my flat or building, could I be making it unsafe for myself and my neighbours?
Yes. Do not make any changes in the structure (like adding or removing a wall, enclosing balconies, making a terrace garden, an additional water tank, making openings in existing walls) without consulting a structural engineer. All buildings are designed to take only certain assumed loads distributed in a certain pattern. Any change to this pattern or an excessive increase in the load can prove extremely dangerous and will cause the structure to fall.
If a Vastu consultant advises you to make changes to your house or office, do not rush to do so till you check with a structural engineer.
Odds stacked against Kutch administration Friday, February 16, 2001
RAJKOT: It is now a race against time for the Kutch district administration, which not only has to combat the drought in summer but also build at least temporary structures before monsoon for the quake-hit population.
The work on removing the debris is progressing at a slower pace than expected as a result of which clearing the way for reconstruction will take some more time.
Only the roads in Bhuj, Anjar, Bhachau, Rapar and other large towns have been cleared of the debris so far. Officials have not touched the collapsed houses because of "legal complications". In places like Anjar, where Reliance Industries is doing the job of clearing the debris, company officials have stated clearly that they have been told only to clear the streets.
Under the circumstances, well placed sources in Bhuj say it will be miracle if the quake survivors are provided houses before monsoon, notwithstanding the bold announcements emanating from Gandhinagar that the new structures will be ready in four months time.
So far, even the master plan for rebuilding the towns or the location - at the existing sites of towns or elsewhere - have not been drawn up and instructions are awaited.
To add to the miseries of the people, the drought may raise its ugly head any time now. Sources say there is no plan for rebuilding now as the administration is busy clearing the debris.
What is even more strange is the government's reported plans to provide temporary houses made of tin sheets to the affected. But the planners have perhaps forgotten the fact that with mercury touching 45 and 47 degree in Kutch during summer, people living in tin houses will be roasted alive.
And it is not a question of a day or two. The heat wave in Kutch is there for most part of summer and accompanied by the sandstorms life will be miserable inside these proposed structures.
"Till now even the blue print of the houses is not ready. What kind of construction will it be? And, above all, what about providing water connections and sanitation?," asks a senior official.
With just four months left for the arrival of monsoon doubts are being raised about the government's capacity and commitment to undertake a job of such magnitude.
"What the state government has not calculated is that much of the manpower now stationed in Kutch will have to be diverted towards drought relief measures which cannot be ignored in the coming months," the official pointed out.
The officials are just hoping at present that they can forget about the debris and the people will opt for new rehabilitation sites so that the time-consuming debris removal operation can be avoided.
With so many houses in Kutch rendered unfit for human dwelling, the state government does not seem to have the means and expertise to construct houses on such a large scale at such a short notice.
The coming months of intense heat and sandstorms in Kutch are going to severely stretch the government machinery which, at present, does not seem to have a clue on overcoming the odds and the elements.