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A lucky escape, say scientists

By Our Staff Reporter



People run for cover on the Vishakhapatnam coast as the tide rises. — Photo: K.R. Deepak

VISAKHAPATNAM, DEC. 26. The damage to life and property would have been colossal, had the earthquake on Sunday morning occurred on the land instead of the sea.

"It was really a miraculous escape just because it happened in the ocean. Had it happened on the land, the damage would have been more devastating than the Killari and Bhuj earthquakes," the Cyclone Warning Centre (CWC) director, J.V.M. Naidu, told The Hindu .

The CWC had measured a magnitude of eight on the Richter scale. The quake that occurred west of Sumatra Islands in the Indian Ocean was very severe.

"It is predicted that after-shocks/ vibrations will continue for the next 24 to 48 hours," Dr. Naidu said.

The epicentre was recorded 3.7 degrees north and 95 degrees east to the west of Sumatra Islands, Dr. Naidu said.

The damage in Andhra Pradesh was more in Prakasam district, which along with the Andaman islands, are located in the fracture zone. Visakhapatnam — where the impact of the quake was widely felt — is in the seismic zone-II.

"Almost everybody felt the impact from 6.30 a.m. to 6.40 a.m. right from Chennai to Srikakulam. This itself is a pointer to the fact that the earthquake would have triggered a major catastrophe had it originated on the land," a geologist said. V.R.R.M. Babu, a former geology professor from Andhra University who has done extensive research on tsunamis, said the epicentre was prone to such quakes as a lot of tectonic plates formed in the ocean bed.

They are subject to submarine slumping, which causes quakes and gives rise to tsunamis.

`Ring of fire'

"That's the reason why the area is called `ring of fire'. If the crater was formed after the quake, it would be more than 5 km. The water level at the epicentre generally rises to one metre which goes up to 20 to 30 metres by the time it reaches the coast," he said.

Prof. Babu said the waves travelled at the rate of 7,000 km. per hour. Sources said Prakasam had recorded 150 quakes in the past and Bhadrachalam over 50. Visakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Manthani had had 20 to 30 quakes in the past.

But never before had the magnitude exceeded 2.5 on the Richter scale.

The highest in the State was of a magnitude of 5.7 at Bhadrachalam in 1969, the next being 5.5 in Vizianagaram in 1917 and 5.4 at Ongole.

After verifying reports from the revenue administration and geologists, the Commissioner of Police, B. Prasada Rao, a scientist himself, said: "It's a great escape from a major devastation."

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