MUMBAI: Of late, residents of Dahanu and Talasari talukas in Palghar district have been staying away from their homes, braving the chilly nights in makeshift tents. Parents don’t let children go to school, and if they do, accompany them to and from the schools every day.
These, according to the residents, are the safety measures they need to take against the physical and mental tremors they’ve been subjected to for the past three months.
More than 1,000 earthquakes of mild-to-medium magnitude on the Richter scale have rocked Dahanu and Talasari since November 3 last year, according to data from the National Centre for Seismology (NCS) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. These constant tremors have created a sense of uncertainty and fear among local residents and have kept the state government on its toes. Apart from the harsh cold, the locals have to be wary of mosquitoes, snakes and scorpions, when sleeping in the tents as a precaution against building collapses.
The NCS has set up three seismographs — an instrument that measures and records details of earthquake — in the two talukas. Sixteen of the 1,000 earthquakes measured above three on the scale, which affected more than 30,000 people from 17 villages and damaged at least 1,300 homes.
According to the Palghar district collector’s office, the earthquakes have affected an area measuring 10km in diameter, around the earthquake’s epicentre.
The epicentre, 3-5km below the surface, was recorded at Dhundalwadi village in Dahanu.
The biggest tremor was recorded on February 1, at 3.6. Dr Vineet Kumar Gahalaut, NCS director, said, “On the same day, more than 600 tremors were recorded in 24 hours, at least four of which were above three on the Richter scale.” The phenomenon is called ‘earthquake swarm’ where several low-magnitude tremors are felt one after the other. According to Gahalaut, swarms usually do not have the capacity to devastate homes or cause disasters such as landslides.
Earlier last week, the Palghar district collector said a fault line — a break in the earth’s surface where quakes usually occur — was detected in the affected area.
Prashant Narnaware, collector of Palghar, said, “The homes in these villages are mostly katcha homes. Over the past three months, several of the houses have developed deep cracks in the walls, beams and pillars of their structures.” A total of 1,500 homes were inspected by the district administration.
Meanwhile, at least 42 locations were identified across these two talukas, where tents have been set up. The collector has put in place an emergency medical infrastructure for each village — which includes a tent, a motorcycle ambulance and four-wheeler ambulance.
According to the district’s disaster management plan, locals have been advised not to sleep inside their homes, while schools have been advised not to take lectures in classrooms. As of November, when the first tremor was felt, attendance in schools has fallen by more than 60%. The three residential schools around Dhundalwadi have bunk beds set up in makeshift tents on the school playgrounds. Classes for those kids who have remained behind are conducted in the school playgrounds. Dattatray Borse, a teacher at the government-run Dhundalwadi Primary, Secondary Residential school, said, “More than 50% of the children in our school have stopped attending lectures. We have 689 students, of which 400 stay in the school hostel. Most of these students were taken home by their parents.”
Similarly, Babasaheb Pawar, principal, Somaiyya Trust Residential school, in Nareshwadi near Dhundalwadi said, “Parents prefer taking their children to work with them, than leave them here at school, or even alone at home during the day. Attendance in our school has dropped by 60% during the first two months. Now, 40% of the students are absent.”
On the other hand, local residents are setting store by beliefs, such as “fate will take its own course no matter what precautions we take”, or that “we have to watch for the quakes on Friday and Saturday, and then they [the tremors] would leave us alone for the rest of the week”.
Families cook in the open, feed in the open, sleep on the katcha streets of the village, and reassure each other in the middle of the night if they feel a tremor.
Santosh Bhoye, a resident of Dhundalwadi, said, “My wife, two children, and four neighbouring families all sleep in a tent in the night. Sometimes we sleep on the road, but it is very cold in the night.”
Deepika Mere, one of Bhoye’s neighbours, said, “Those who have cots have moved them to the road. Some of us bought folding cots, so we don’t have to sleep on the floor. There are a lot of poisonous creatures in the field.”