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Karachi, Makran coast could be hit with earthquake, tsunami

And we are not prepared for it

SAMAA | - Posted: Jan 13, 2022 | Last Updated: 3 days ago
Posted: Jan 13, 2022 | Last Updated: 3 days ago

Pakistan Meteorological Department Director General Muhammad Riaz has warned that the Makran Coastal Belt could be hit by an earthquake anytime. Although he can’t predict the exact time, Riaz says that there’s enough energy gathered in the Eurasian subduction zone that it could cause an earthquake which could even trigger a tsunami.

The subduction zone of the Makran Coastal Belts could be hit with an earthquake of 8 magnitude or above. This would also affect the coastal belts of Karachi and the rest of Balochistan.

Over 4,000 people died when an earthquake followed by a tsunami had hit the coastal belt in 1944. Now, this fault line has completed its natural time period and the subduction zone in the sea is again very active and gaining momentum with every passing day.

Talking to SAMAA Digital, Riaz said that this danger is already present at the Makran Coast which could become active anytime and result in destruction.

The area is already experiencing typhoons and other calamities. Gwadar and Makran’s coastal areas recently received heavy rains.

We should focus on how we can save ourselves from these natural disasters, the DG said.

People should be made aware of the role they have to play, he said. While constructing houses, people should keep in mind that the area could be hit by a high-magnitude earthquake.

Instead of waiting for the earthquake to hit and ultimately relocating to a safer place, people should construct earthquake-proof structures so they remain safe.

An earthquake of 8 magnitude or above could result in 10-15 feet high waves, the DG PMD said.

The Malir fault line would continue to receive minor and medium-range earthquakes and bylaws should be implemented during construction, Riaz said.

He appreciated the government’s efforts to clear Gujjar and other rainwater drain saying that this would ensure swift drainage of rainwater and help avoid the risk of urban flooding.

Riaz said that mangrove plantation along the coastal line is important as they help mitigate the dangers of cyclones in the pre-and post-monsoon season. It also reduces the risks of tsunami.

Provincial Disaster Management Authority Sindh Director General Salman Shah said that Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates meet 40 nautical miles south of Gwadar. This point is called the subduction zone, he said.

Whenever the tectonic plates move in the subduction zone, it causes earthquakes, said Shah. When this earthquake comes under the sea, it creates tsunami waves, he explained.

Karachi has a history of earthquakes. The 1944 earthquake was caused by a 7-magnitude earthquake in the Makran subduction zone and created 10-12 feet high waves, Shah said.

Over 4,000 casualties were recorded in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan.

Shah said that at that time, Karachi’s population was mere few hundred thousands which has grown to tens of millions. If any such incident happens today, the casualties would be double and we all should be prepared for that, he said.

Earthquake is a calamity that doesn’t give any warning.

You get some time in the case of a tsunami depending on how long it’s taking place, Shah said.

The DG PMDA said building codes should be implemented strictly and buildings should be made earthquake-proof like those in Japan. You can’t tell which building in Karachi can withstand an earthquake, he added.

According to the building code, a structure should be able to withstand an earthquake of up to 7.5 magnitudes, Salman Shah said.

Shah said that the PDMA in collaboration with Suparco has completed a survey of all 30 districts of Sindh to evaluate the level of destruction a certain disaster could cause in each of these districts. The survey also looks at the measures that can be taken to minimize the possible damage.

The DG said that an initial report is ready but they are waiting for the final report. Different areas of Karachi have also been included in the survey.

He revealed that the pilot project started from District Thatta and 14 more districts were added. Later on, another 15 districts of the province were included. Currently, the authorities are compiling the data and it will take them around three months to complete the report.

No one can predict how high the tsunami waves would be, said Shah. 2011 tsunami on Japan saw 30-35 feet high waves.

The PDMA is currently working on two projects, the DG PDMA revealed. One of the projects is in collaboration with UNDP in Keamari and Ibrahim Hyderi. This is not only for assessment but would also install a warning system. Sirens to be used for warning locals in case of a tsunami.

These are densely populated areas and would be badly affected in case of a tsunami, that’s why we have prioritized them, Shah explained. “We are also training locals what to do if a tsunami comes and how to reach safe locations.”

Besides these, the Sindh government is also working with help of NDRF in four more districts including Malir, Thatta, Badin and Sajawal.

On Sindh’s coastline, 17 stations will be installed, UNDP will set up three and PDMA will install the rest.

What to do when an earthquake comes

At the time of the earthquake, if you’re in a building, get out of it.

Use stairs to get out, never go for a lift.

If you can’t, then take shelter under a hard surface so you remain safe from falling concrete and stones.

Sit on your knees and wrap your hands around your neck and stick your head between your knees.

The PDMA has completed a community training program in six districts and they are running programs in the rest of the districts.

They are also running a building code awareness program for private builders, masons and the government that works closely with the construction sector including the works and services department, irrigation department.

Shah also revealed that PDMA has a disaster management plan which includes information about hospitals in the area, their capacity, routes to these hospitals as well as how many ambulances does each of them have.

Shah acknowledged that Karachi’s fire department has improved a lot compared to what it was in the past but it’s still far from being sufficient.

The fire department now has snorkels and new machinery but it’s still not enough for a mega city like Karachi, he said.

PDMA Search and Rescue Centers

The PDMA Sindh DG said that they are establishing Search and Rescue centers in all divisional headquarters including Karachi.

Advertisements have been given and the recruitment is in process. We have signed an agreement with Punjab’s Rescue 1122 for the training of our staff, he revealed. Our teams will receive training at their Thokar Niaz Baig centre in Lahore.

In the second phase, they will train people from 14 other districts and this way they have 17 to 18 rescue teams in the province.

There already are search and rescue teams that comes under the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC), which NDMA helped prepare in 2008.

Besides the KMC, the Pakistan Army and Capital Development Authority have other two search and rescue teams in the country. These teams are deputed in emergencies.

Former JPMC executive director Dr Seemin Jamali told SAMAA Digital that Karachi has only tertiary care units which are capable of handling patients in case of a natural disaster.

The Murree disaster has shown us that no one can control climate change and we are certainly not prepared for it.

Dr Jamali thinks that Karachi hospitals are not ready to tackle any big disaster in the near future. We have dealt with hundreds of patients in case of a bomb blast or any other small-scale tragedy, she said adding that the hospitals would not be able to function in case of a big natural disaster.

The former JPMC director said that we are not at all ready for a big natural disaster just like we were not ready for the 2005 earthquake. The majority of buildings in Karachi are old and not earthquake-proof. If the city is hit with an earthquake and tsunami, we are not at all prepared for any such situation. It is high time that we start training manpower and invest in hospitals that could handle such situations, she added.

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