GUWAHATI, Jan 4 - Even as the memory of last year�s devastating Nepal earthquake, which had claimed the lives of a few women from Guwahati, is still fresh in the minds of many people, Guwahatians were shaken out of their sleep and forced to run out of their homes helter-skelter in the wee hours today, as an earthquake measuring 6.7 in the Richter scale, with its epicentre in Manipur, jolted the city.
The earthquake left 26 persons injured in Guwahati and minor cracks were reported from 30-odd properties, including a number of multi-storey buildings.
The earthquake, which struck around 4.35 am, resulted in chaotic scenes across the city, as streets and lanes were filled up by panic-stricken locals, who left the comfort of their warm beds to venture out into the cold winter morning even before onset of the dawn.
�It was a frightening experience. Everybody was in a state of panic. This kind of high-intensity vibration was felt by all of us after a long time. The water from the aquarium inside our apartment got spilled to the floor. You can imagine what must have been the situation in our building, which has eight floors,� said Abhijit Bhattacharjee, a resident of RG Baruah Road, who lives in a high-rise building.
Bhattacharjee, a senior telecom sector executive, added, �With small kids and elderly people in many families, it was total chaos. For those in apartments located in higher floors, the panic was even more intense. Once we all reached the ground, there was the fear of aftershocks. Many of us, entire families with kids, stayed outside till it was dawn.� He said the residents lit a log fire outside to keep themselves warm.
Similar scenes were noticed in other localities also. Many people stayed out for a long time fearing aftershocks, while they waited with prayers in their lips and fear in their hearts.
�There have been some minor damages in the city. Some buildings have developed cracks. The injuries to most of the victims were of minor nature. The injuries were not because of the earthquake per se, but due to pushing and shoving, which happened on account of panic. All the injured persons were admitted to hospitals and most of them were discharged after treatment within hours,� Dr M Angamuthu, Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup Metro, told The Assam Tribune.
The injured were admitted to the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) and Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital (MMCH). Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi visited the GMCH and met the injured. He said only four to five among the injured were still receiving treatment in hospital till late afternoon.
�All the injured will be provided rehabilitation grant as per the severity of their injuries and as per SDRF norms,� Dr Angamuthu said. Asked about reports that two persons have died in Pandu locality during the earthquake, he said, �There have been no deaths in the city due to the earthquake. Any death which may have taken place is on account of natural cause.�
Officials from the district administration, Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC), Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), Revenue and Disaster Management Department, police and other departments have been deployed in the field to assess the situation. All circle officers and heads of line departments have been directed to submit the damage assessment at the earliest.
�We are assessing the damage and will take all needful steps,� said Dr Angamuthu, who is also chairman of the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA).
The DDMA has decided to intensify awareness programmes across the city and nearby areas so that residents are able to handle such situations better in case of future incidents.
Cracks were reported from buildings in Chandrapur, Fancy Bazar, Paltanbazar and many other localities. There were reports of cracks in the GMCH walls as well. However, a senior GMCH official told this newspaper that the cracks were old ones and not from this morning�s quake.
Many areas witnessed power cuts for some time following the tremor. Many people across the city also complained of headache following the quake.
�My son stays in Doha, Qatar. Even the international media picked up the story fast and I received a call from my son as early as 6 am inquiring about our well-being,� said Dwip Baruah of Nabin Nagar.
Baruah, who is active on various civic issues like that of artificial floods, said people in his neigbhourhood were all out of their houses as soon as the tremor was felt.
�As our region is earthquake-prone, the administration should be strict with regard to safety standards regarding buildings and structures. There should be emphasis on use of latest technology and adherence to construction norms. More awareness measures should be taken as people tend to panic during such situations and so should be informed about the steps needed to prevent stampede,� Baruah said, adding that illegal constructions which do not generally adhere to safety norms can cause serious damage in case of high-intensity quakes.
People in many localities also called upon the civic authorities to make fire escapes and emergency exits compulsory in buildings for evacuation of residents in such situations.
Describing his family�s moments of horror, Mukunda Pujari, a resident in an apartment at Panjabari, said it was a situation he had never experienced in his life. �With two kids, we were at a loss as to what to do � whether to run outside or to remain in our flat � as both the exercises were risky. We heard people wailing and praying outside,� he said.
Our Jalukbari Correspondent adds: Two persons died of heart attack in the city during the earthquake. Niranjan Das (67) of Sweeper Colony, Pandu, and Rajesh Prasad (53) of Shakuntala Colony, Pandu, died in bed when the quake struck.