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Impact of 1897 quake bigger than 1950

By AJIT PATOWARY
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GUWAHATI, April 27 � The Assam Earthquake of August 15, 1950 was not taken seriously by the then Guwahatians, even as at the time of its occurrence, people chanted the name of God, fervently appealing the almighty to save their souls through vocal code distress signals according to their individual beliefs. The 1950 tremor was the tenth largest known earthquakes of the 20th century. But for the then elderly Guwahatians, it had a much lesser impact on Guwahati and its neighbourhood compared to the Great Assam Earthquake of July 12, 1897 in terms of intensity and devastation.

This was the observation made by noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika, while talking to this correspondent on the 1950 earthquake, which with a magnitude of 8.6 in the Richter scale, led to severe destruction in the Upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh areas in India and in neighbouring Tibet region of China. Between 1,500 and 3,300 people were believed to have been killed under the impact of this earthquake, which had its epicentre located near Rima in Tibet.

Hazarika, then a class IX student, said he was taking rest on a pati (woven of split cane) laid on the floor of their bedroom after lunch, when the tremor struck. He was then staying with his maternal grandfather late Mahendra Lal Barooah, a resident of Jorpukhuripar Lamb Road.

As soon as the tremor occurred, people of the Jorpukhuripar localities ran out of their houses, which were Assam Type structures, and started chanting Horibol, Horibol and the resident of the adjacent Muslim locality on the Company Bagan Road (now Dr SK Bhuyan Road) chanted Allah Huo Akbar. Both the chantings mingled together as if to create a synergic appeal to the Almighty.

But this time, on April 25, 2015, there was no such chanting heard in the PD Chaliha Road locality, which has a mix population of Hindus and Muslims, Hazarika, now a resident of this locality, said.

Hazarika was thinking of attending the mass prayer scheduled for the evening that day at the Ulubari residence of the first Premier (now Chief Minister) of the post-Independent Assam late Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi on the occasion of Bardoloi�s adyashradha. Some of Hazarika�s brotherly friends like ex-principal of Cotton College Dr Dilip Kakati and late Amar Hazarika, an ex-bank officer, were there at the venue of the adyashradha, when the jolt came. Those who were present at the venue, literally ran away to the open.

The August 15, 1950 earthquake was followed by several aftershocks continuously for several days. The one that occurred around 11 pm on one night following the August 15 quake, took Hazarika unawares and out of panic he jumped from his bed and while trying to run out of the bedroom, he broke a marble dinning table of oval shape into two pieces. That dinning table, bought by his late father, would have been an antique item today, Hazarika lamented.

Timber logs and carcasses of animals were seen floating down the course of the mighty Brahmaputra after a couple of days of the tremor. Some people also claimed that they had seen some human bodies too floating down the mighty river. The floating logs made the ferry services between Guwahati and North Guwahati irregular for several days.

When the earthquake was on, a low rank employee of the Guwahati All India Radio Station saved the Radio Station with a prompt act of putting off the main switch of the Station applying his own intelligence. The Radio Station was then located on the vast plot on which the Gauhati High Court Annexe, Guwahati Planetarium, Swahid Bhawan, Directorate of Social Welfare etc., are located today.

But the aged Guwahatians of that time did not recognise the 1950 earthquake as a massive one. For them, the June 12, 1897 Great Assam Earthquake was much bigger in intensity. That earthquake changed the geography of Guwahati resulting in subsidence of many areas.

Till the 1897 earthquake, the place where the Bhangagarh Satsang Bihar is now located on the GS Road (formerly Shillong Road), was used as a race course and polo field. But the earthquake reduced it into a low-lying area.

Roads in Guwahati developed cracks, all its heavy structures, including the offices and residential bungalows of the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police, the imposing structure of the Christ Church located in the Church Field (now Nehru Park), except the North Brook Gate (now Gateway of Assam), were reduced to debris by the earthquake. The senior European bureaucrats had to take shelter in the two vessels allotted for the Chief Commissioner of the State and Brahmaputra Valley Commissioner on the Brahmaputra, following that earthquake, Hazarika said.

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Impact of 1897 quake bigger than 1950

GUWAHATI, April 27 � The Assam Earthquake of August 15, 1950 was not taken seriously by the then Guwahatians, even as at the time of its occurrence, people chanted the name of God, fervently appealing the almighty to save their souls through vocal code distress signals according to their individual beliefs. The 1950 tremor was the tenth largest known earthquakes of the 20th century. But for the then elderly Guwahatians, it had a much lesser impact on Guwahati and its neighbourhood compared to the Great Assam Earthquake of July 12, 1897 in terms of intensity and devastation.

This was the observation made by noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika, while talking to this correspondent on the 1950 earthquake, which with a magnitude of 8.6 in the Richter scale, led to severe destruction in the Upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh areas in India and in neighbouring Tibet region of China. Between 1,500 and 3,300 people were believed to have been killed under the impact of this earthquake, which had its epicentre located near Rima in Tibet.

Hazarika, then a class IX student, said he was taking rest on a pati (woven of split cane) laid on the floor of their bedroom after lunch, when the tremor struck. He was then staying with his maternal grandfather late Mahendra Lal Barooah, a resident of Jorpukhuripar Lamb Road.

As soon as the tremor occurred, people of the Jorpukhuripar localities ran out of their houses, which were Assam Type structures, and started chanting Horibol, Horibol and the resident of the adjacent Muslim locality on the Company Bagan Road (now Dr SK Bhuyan Road) chanted Allah Huo Akbar. Both the chantings mingled together as if to create a synergic appeal to the Almighty.

But this time, on April 25, 2015, there was no such chanting heard in the PD Chaliha Road locality, which has a mix population of Hindus and Muslims, Hazarika, now a resident of this locality, said.

Hazarika was thinking of attending the mass prayer scheduled for the evening that day at the Ulubari residence of the first Premier (now Chief Minister) of the post-Independent Assam late Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi on the occasion of Bardoloi�s adyashradha. Some of Hazarika�s brotherly friends like ex-principal of Cotton College Dr Dilip Kakati and late Amar Hazarika, an ex-bank officer, were there at the venue of the adyashradha, when the jolt came. Those who were present at the venue, literally ran away to the open.

The August 15, 1950 earthquake was followed by several aftershocks continuously for several days. The one that occurred around 11 pm on one night following the August 15 quake, took Hazarika unawares and out of panic he jumped from his bed and while trying to run out of the bedroom, he broke a marble dinning table of oval shape into two pieces. That dinning table, bought by his late father, would have been an antique item today, Hazarika lamented.

Timber logs and carcasses of animals were seen floating down the course of the mighty Brahmaputra after a couple of days of the tremor. Some people also claimed that they had seen some human bodies too floating down the mighty river. The floating logs made the ferry services between Guwahati and North Guwahati irregular for several days.

When the earthquake was on, a low rank employee of the Guwahati All India Radio Station saved the Radio Station with a prompt act of putting off the main switch of the Station applying his own intelligence. The Radio Station was then located on the vast plot on which the Gauhati High Court Annexe, Guwahati Planetarium, Swahid Bhawan, Directorate of Social Welfare etc., are located today.

But the aged Guwahatians of that time did not recognise the 1950 earthquake as a massive one. For them, the June 12, 1897 Great Assam Earthquake was much bigger in intensity. That earthquake changed the geography of Guwahati resulting in subsidence of many areas.

Till the 1897 earthquake, the place where the Bhangagarh Satsang Bihar is now located on the GS Road (formerly Shillong Road), was used as a race course and polo field. But the earthquake reduced it into a low-lying area.

Roads in Guwahati developed cracks, all its heavy structures, including the offices and residential bungalows of the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police, the imposing structure of the Christ Church located in the Church Field (now Nehru Park), except the North Brook Gate (now Gateway of Assam), were reduced to debris by the earthquake. The senior European bureaucrats had to take shelter in the two vessels allotted for the Chief Commissioner of the State and Brahmaputra Valley Commissioner on the Brahmaputra, following that earthquake, Hazarika said.