Monday, July 22, 2024

Disastrous incidents of June 1897 and Oct 1985 are lessons for present day constructions


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By Uma Purkayastha 

The month of June reminds us of the big catastrophe that came down upon the newly built city Shillong on 12th June 1897, crushing the beautiful city to dust, sweeping away many valuable lives and structures turning it into mere debris. It was a horrifying and tragic episode of 19th century Shillong.

There were 29 deaths in Shillong, 10 of which occurred in the Secretariat press. The shocks were so severe and prolonged that everything was levelled to the ground. Many mothers lost their children underground, heard their piteous cries but despite all attempts failed to rescue them! The tremendous destruction of that deadly earthquake left an indelible mark in the history of Shillong!

Today it is history, a mere episode only but that disastrous earthquake of Shillong moved the whole world; and many global seismologists visited then Shillong to research on the subject. They observed that the light constructions of wood and clay remained unhurt despite the strongest jerks of the earthquake whereas the RCC buildings were crushed to dust.

Prof. Asuri, an expert from Japan, detected that being a bumpy hilly place with rocky soil, Shillong was not fit for heavy concrete buildings, but light buildings with wooden frame and Ickra walls etc could be sustainable here.

In this big span of hundred and twenty seven years, Shillong has faced many ups and downs, many political changes and natural calamities at the same time; and another very sensitive incident of natural calamity happened in Shillong on October 11, 1985, which was an exceptionally surprising and an unbelievably tragic episode, of which the author herself was a witness! Bhagirath Roy, the then Superintendent of Police (Infiltration) Meghalaya, (1985) purchased a house in Upper Bishnupur area, in Shillong and had been residing there with his family. The house was a double-storey concrete building. At the dead of night a loud sound was heard by his next door neighbour Mr. Khound who opened his window to see what happened; but surprisingly discovered that the house of Mr. Bhagawati had vanished! There was no trace of the house other than a big compound. He could not believe his own eyes and closed the window thinking something was wrong with his observation. The next morning, he came outside his house to find that his observation last night was right! There was no trace of the house of Mr. Bhagawati as the house collapsed.

People gathered, and the news had spread like wildfire and the police department rushed to the spot. Rescue work began in full swing and it was also found that Mr. Bhagawati was dead and other members of the family also died of suffocation. Only two boys were rescued in a very critical condition and were hospitalised. Mrs. Bhagawati escaped the disaster as she was admitted in a hospital for treatment. It was a ghastly incident because there was no earthquake or any natural calamity that night.

The actual cause behind the disastrous incident was known as, the land on which that house was constructed, was based on ‘QuickSand’ (Chora bali), which was not at all fit for concrete constructions.

This horrifying incident is a big example of destruction of RCC building constructions on the rocky and bumpy soil of Shillong, and it is eye-opener to the later constructions.

Due to vast advancement of science and technology many adversities can be overcome today; but natural calamities like earthquakes, cyclonic storms, incessant rains and floods cannot be avoided. Shillong, being a hill station, was proven unsuitable for heavy concrete buildings by the global experts of the 19th century, after that disastrous earthquake of 1897, and accordingly Assam type light buildings came to be constructed. But it is observed that, by the last half a century, colourful multistoried buildings are being planned and constructed by the modern Architects replacing the old Assam type buildings. The very recently happened incident of the collapse of the steel dome of the new Assembly building at Mawdiangdiang (2022), and RCC wall of P.A Sangma Studium 2024, due to incessant rains and storm, which are big threats to the Architects also. They should not ignore the century old verdict of Prof. Asuri, the seismologist from Japan, not to construct RCC buildings etc in the rocky soil of Shillong.

It is high time to think over the matter before constructing more such concrete buildings on the rocky soil of the hilly terrain of Shillong, so that disastrous history is not repeated.


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