Special Report - January 27, 2001

The Earthquake

Friday, January 26 was a holiday in IndiaRepublic Day the 52nd anniversary of the adoption of the Indian constitution. In Rajkot, Gugarat, it opened as a beautiful day with clear skies and pleasant temperatures. Jikaka was watching TV waiting for the Republic Day parade to begin in Delhi. Benifaiva was bustling about following her morning routine of cleaning and organizing. I was sitting on the living room swing, reading the newspaper. It was about 9AM.

I suddenly became conscious of a rumbling noise that was increasing rapidly. Was it a truck? A train? A low-flying jet? As the noise increased, the house began to shakeit was an earthquake! I ran out into the yard, with Jikaka and Benifaiva following. Jikaka’s house is on the corner of a side street, lined with multi-story apartment buildings, and a main street. When we opened the gate and stepped into the side street, we found it full of people running toward the main street, the largest nearby open area. We stood near the junction of the two streets and looked around. Power lines were swaying. Window glass could be seen to be in motion. I did not see buildings move, but Jikaka says he saw a concrete column, supporting the front of his house, move. The electric power went off.

The ground motion was a sharp up-and-down motion, like riding in a truck with stiff springs on a bad road. I did not feel any of the side-to-side motion that I had felt so strongly in the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. I would guestimate that the motion I felt was about magnitude 5not overly severe, and that it lasted perhaps 15 seconds.

People stood in the street and talked for some time after the quake ended. I could not understand what was being said, but saw many excited faces, and a few scared ones.

A few minutes later, we were visited by Jikaka’s nephew who was in town caring for his father, Dr. Pandya, who had been taken to the hospital a couple of days earlier with multiple problems and was scheduled to be released today. He said that the quake had been the most frightening event of his life. He had been in his father’s third-floor hospital room and had felt completely helpless as the building moved. He said that people were screaming and crying around him. After the quake, he had taken his father out of the hospital, still connected to a catheter, and brought him to Jikaka’s, where he called his home in Gondal. He later returned Dr. Pandya to the hospital.

Jikaka’s house appears not to be severely damaged. Some items fell out of cabinets. Pictures on the walls were knocked crooked. A bookshelf in Jikaka’s library broke free from the wall and dumped books on the floor. The building is of masonry construction and there are a few new, but apparently minor, cracks. A non-structural masonry wall that encloses an area under an exterior staircase has separated from the staircase, but remained standing.

With power out, we had no way of knowing the extent of the quake. I walked around the local area to get an idea of the local situation, but everywhere I went, people were sitting on the street outside their homes, and everyone wanted to talk. One guy with limited English asked me something like "Typhoonwhy?". I was taken into two homes to see damage. In one, a patch of stucco ceiling had fallen. In the other, bricks and mortar had fallen from a wall that appeared to be old and in a state of disrepair. Most buildings showed no sign of any damage.

According to Jikaka, the Pandya home in Gondal was damaged severely, with roof tiles fallen and large cracks in the walls. The family has moved temporarily into the open courtyard.

The power has been restored to Jikaka’s home. I have listened to CNN and they are saying that the epicenter was about 50 miles northwest of Rajkot. The magnitude has been reported at 6.9 and at 7.9. It sounds as if Ahmedabad was most severely hit with "hundreds" of buildings damaged and several people killed. This was said to be the worst earthquake in India since the 1950’s. The Gujarati news showed pictures of people digging in wreckage in Ahmedabad. As of Friday evening, CNN is reporting over one thousand casualties. Jikaka tells me that a local newspaper special edition in Gujarati reports that there have been at least four deaths in Rajkot, and that the stone entry gate to the Rajkot train station has fallen.

I have been unable to send this report today (Friday) because none of the Internet cafes I tried have a connection to the Internet. I was told that most connections go through Ahmedabad, where damage has been severe.

Jikaka says that he has never before experienced an earthquake in Rajkot. We are a little shaken, but very happy to have come through the experience uninjured. I had thought that if I were to experience another earthquake (after the Loma Prieta quake of ‘89) it would be in California. I certainly never imaged I would be reporting on one from India!

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Jikaka examines a minor crack in the wall near his front door.
This non-structural masonry wall has broken away from the exterior staircase at Jikaka’s house.
The top shelf in Jikaka’s library has separated from its wall brackets and fallen.
This gentleman showed me the pile of rubble in his home where a small section of an old wall had fallen.

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