September 20, 2011
The deaths, damage and recovery efforts came after a total of three quakes struck the region in rapid succession. The U.S. Geological Survey initially put the initial quake at 6.9 magnitude and the other two at magnitudes 4.8 and 4.6. All three occurred within an hour and 15 minutes. The quakes set off landslides, which -- along with heavy rains -- blocked roads and hampered rescue efforts. According to the geological survey, the epicenter was about 170 miles east of Kathmandu.
This was not the “big one”, but it did serve as a stark warning to the earthquake-prone region. The Kathmandu Valley has a history of major earthquakes every 70-80 years. The last big quake (8.1 on the Richter scale) was in 1934 and killed 10,700 people. Scientists say major seismic activity is inevitable; the city has been bracing itself for “a big one” for years.
According to Nepal’s National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET), if an earthquake of the same magnitude that struck Haiti in January 2010 were to hit Kathmandu, some 200,000 people would die, 200,000 would be severely injured, some 1.5 million would be made homeless, and 60 percent of homes would be damaged beyond repair. And while some experts believe the 18 September quake was a seismic energy release, which could help avoid such a scenario, others warn against complacency.
“This is a wake-up call for many, for all of those indifferent to earthquakes,” Amod Mani Dixit, executive director of Nepal’s National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal said yesterday.
To understand why Kathmandu’s architecture and deplorably shoddy building practices make it, seismically, the most vulnerable city in the world, check out this sobering video:
Note: Breakdown of deaths by location are being reassessed almost by the hour. As of September 21, according to CNN:
Sikkim -- 50 deaths
West Bengal -- 12 deaths
Bihar -- 6 deaths
Tibet -- 24 deaths
Nepal -- 6 deaths, although Indian Express reported a higher death count of 11.