A series of earthquakes jolted Assam and most of the Northeastern states on Wednesday, causing extensive damage to buildings and forcing people to scamper out of their homes.
There were no immediate reports of deaths directly due to the tremors, but two persons — one each in Kamrup Metropolitan and Nagaon districts — died due to shock and heart attack around the time of the earthquake, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority said.
According to initial reports, 10 people suffered injuries in four districts as the first quake of 6.4 magnitude struck Tezpur, the headquarters of Sonitpur district, at 7.51 am, the ASDMA said in a statement.
The impact was felt in several Northeastern states, parts of West Bengal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
The first quake was followed in quick succession by lesser intensity tremors of 4.7, 4, and two 3.6 magnitudes at 8.03 am, 8.13 am, 8.25 am and 8.44 am, Regional Meteorological Centre Deputy Director Sanjay O’Neil Shaw said.
Another earthquake of 3.2 magnitude hit Assam’s Nagaon district at 10.05 am. A while later, another jolt of 3.4 magnitude hit Tezpur at 10.39 am, he added.
At 12.32 pm, the eighth quake of 2.9 magnitude hit Morigaon. It was followed by three more earthquakes, hitting Sonitpur district again, Shaw said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal twice to inquire about the destruction caused by the earthquake and assured him all help from the Centre.
Sonowal later visited Dhekiajuli near the epicenter and its adjacent areas in Sonitpur district.
There were reports of extensive damage to buildings and other structures from across Assam, mostly in the central and western towns of Tezpur, Nagaon, Guwahati, Mangaldoi, Dhekiajuli and Morigaon.
“Cracks have been developed in many private and public buildings. However, reports of any severe damage like collapse of buildings or disruption of any major infrastructure have not been received so far,” ASDMA said.
A detailed assessment of the damage is going on in coordination with District Disaster management Authorities, Fire and Emergency Services, national and state disaster response forces and experts from Assam Engineering College, the statement said.
Several roads in the region developed wide cracks, affecting traffic movement. Besides, in many areas, fissures were seen in fields with water oozing out, officials said.
Many religious structures, including the Maha Mrityunjaya Temple in Nagaon and several mosques, developed cracks. An earth portion of a hillock in tourist spot Bhairabkunda in Udalguri district came down due to the impact of the tremors.
In Guwahati, the chief minister’s block at the ‘Janata Bhawan’ complex, the state secretariat, witnessed some damage, sources said.
The luxury Taj Vivanta hotel in Guwahati also “sustained minimal and superficial damage”, but there was no injury to any employee or guest, a hotel spokesperson said in a statement.
Healthcare facilities such as Dispur Hospital, Apollo Clinic, Down Town Hospital and Excelcare Hospital also saw damage, hampering services amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.
A multi-storied building in Nagaon tilted on the adjacent structure, triggering panic.
Dozens of houses, apartment buildings and shopping malls across the state also developed cracks. Many vehicles were damaged after concrete blocks fell on them.
The state disaster management authority launched helplines — 1070, 1077, 1079 — to help people report incidents regarding the quake, and seek relief.
The prime minister called up Sonowal immediately after several tremors jolted the state in the morning and again in the afternoon and discussed the situation in the state post in detail, an official release said.
“Spoke to Assam CM Shri @sarbanandsonwal Ji regarding the earthquake in parts of the state. Assured all possible help from the Centre. I pray for the well-being of the people of Assam,” Modi tweeted.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Development of North Eastern Region Minister Jitendra Singh were among a host of Central leaders who spoke to Sonowal on the situation.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that he stood in solidarity with the people of Assam, and asked party workers to be at the forefront of rescue and relief efforts.
Sonowal visited Dhekiajuli and its adjacent areas in Sonitpur. He also went to Sirajuli Model Hospital and Tarajan Bengali village and took stock of damage caused by the quake.
The chief minister urged everyone to stay alert and said that he is taking updates from all the districts.
“The district administrations were directed to carry out a field survey of damages and submit a report for a detailed review and to extend help and support to the affected people,” a release from Chief Minister’s Office said.
The National Centre for Seismology said that damage to buildings and structures was reported from areas within 100 km radius of the epicentre.
The area is seismically very active and falls in the highest Seismic Hazard Zone V, associated with collisional tectonics where the Indian plate subducts beneath the Eurasian Plate, it said.
The historical and instrumentally recorded earthquake data reveals that the region is affected by moderate to large earthquakes, with the most prominent event among those being recorded is on July 29, 1960 when a magnitude 6 quake was reported, it added.
“The timing of the earthquake saved a lot of lives. People were already awake when the earthquake hit, so they could run out in time. There would have been several casualties if this quake struck two-three hours early,” a disaster management official in Guwahati said.
“However, there are concerns as a number of COVID-19 patients also ran out of some safe homes because of the quake. Also, people forgot to wear masks while coming out of homes and there were small gatherings on roads,” he said.
In the Meghalaya capital Shillong, the quake woke up people and many ran outside their homes in panic. However, there was no immediate report of any damage from the state, an official said.
Strong tremors were also felt across Arunachal Pradesh. A few buildings developed cracks in state capital Itanagar and East Kameng district, officials said.
In West Bengal, tremors were felt in Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Coochbehar and parts of Darjeeling district in the northern part of the state but no major damage was reported.
Tremors were also felt in Manipur, including state capital Imphal.
The tremors were also felt in neighbouring Bangladesh and Bhutan, according to local media reports.