Bhuj Earthquake

On January 26, 2001 at approximately 8:46 am local time, a most catastrophic event happened in western India. See figure 3 for GPS map of Bhuj, India. An earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale hit India on the western border where it was also felt by all neighboring states and countries. This earthquake coincided with the 51st celebration of Republic Day, but it was no celebration. Some were trying to compare this earthquake to the occurrence in 1819, when an earthquake hit the same region measuring at 7.7 on the Richter scale. There have been multiple earthquakes in this area over the past century and a half. But the Bhuj earthquake caused a lot more damage to India’s industrial growth than any other to date. The property damage was horrific; it stopped all progression with jobs and industries, which in turn created a problem with the economy. There were so many businesses destroyed and people's lives were torn apart, with devastation and trauma, from this large earthquake. Bhuj was not prepared for an earthquake of this magnitude and they had no warning, therefore the damages were immense. Refer to figure 2 to see an example of these extreme property damages.

An earthquake happens because the Earth’s plates either collide or move sideways rubbing the borders of both plates together. When continental plates collide or slip laterally rubbing together, it creates a lot of suppressed and built up pressure. This action is called a collision margin. When a collision margin takes place, according to plate tectonics, all of this pent up pressure must be released. The pressure is then released, as the plates either smash together to make mountain ranges or simply “slip” over each other. This pressure becomes so massive that it starts to rise to the surface and creates an earthquake. The Bhuj earthquake is known as an intraplate earthquake, which means that the convergent or lateral slipping movements came from a large distance away from any plate boundary. This earthquake was caused by a convergent movement within a plate, or intraplate collision. This resulted in an unsuspecting and unprepared city becoming demolished into ruin.

The one positive aspect of this earthquake is that on February 4th, 2001, many of the locals and hydrologists found water from dried desert rivers. What they were witnessing was liquefaction, which is when there is an indication that there is enough water flow to activate rivers that have been dry for over a century. Since February, there have been numerous channels of ancient rivers that have been reactivated and have broken through their old channels. This caused an increase in water flow near Bhuj, which helped with the everyday water supply for many needy people that are now homeless and jobless. So, what is Liquefaction? Well it occurs in saturated soils, when the space between the particles of soil are filled with water and there is a pressure increase, like when an earthquake takes place. What happens is prior to an earthquake, the water pressure is low in the saturated soil; but then the shaking caused by the earthquake causes the water pressure to increase, which makes the soil particles move readily with respect to one another. Liquifaction can be very dangerous because this shift of saturated soils makes the soil turn into unstable particles that move like quick sand. Great damage occurs when liquifaction happens around cities, buildings, and it is very dangerous for people. A building that was stable can suddenly start to sink into the ground and lean into other buildings or crumble under the pressure making it very dangerous for people in its proximity. Liquifaction normally occurs where the soil is saturated with water, for example docks, river dams, cities near the ocean coasts, lake sides and any where water can travel through the soil. In this particular example of the Bhuj earthquake, the saturated soils were caused by ancient canals underground near the city.

Another main element that enhanced the effects of liquefaction during the 2001 earthquake in Bhuj is the building codes. With India being a major earthquake location and containing a long history of earthquakes, experts eventually learned that higher building codes were necessary to prevent further deaths from earthquakes. When the 2001 earthquake hit, three-fourths of the 6,000 schools (that were constructed throughout Gujarat during 1999 and 2000) collapsed or were significantly damaged. That is, approximately 3,500 schools were destroyed. Although many are beginning to realize the importance of strong building codes because of these devastating events, there are still too many who ignore them when actually constructing new houses and infrastructures. The main issue in India remains in the financial instability of the country’s people. Some builders ignore the building codes because following them would be too expensive – constructing buildings that are insufficient in seismic safety, on the other hand, are cheaper. Even though after the 2001 earthquake, municipal authorities have requested engineers and architects to certify that buildings comply with the requirements, false certification can easily be attained. Thus, many new buildings are still being constructed without complying with seismic requirements. Other public infrastructure just cost too much to make improvements on, due to the country’s inability to support a large project like that right now. As a result, the Austin Creek Bridge connecting the North Andaman Islands with the Middle Andaman Islands, in India, which were built in 2002, suffered great damage and went out of function during the 2004 Sumatra earthquake. Seismic safety remains to be a large issue at hand for India to overcome, and continues to be an ongoing problem for the people and the economy of India.

India is a very heavily populated country with about 20 million people in this area where the earthquake occurred and the effects were devastating. The earthquake’s tremors and aftershocks were felt severely in Pakistan and reached all the way to Nepal. The heaviest destruction was in the state of Gujarat. Bhuj is located in Gujarat just south of Kutch, where the past devastating earthquake occurred in 1819. Bhuj was only 20 kilometers from the earthquake’s epicenter causing the city to collapse. To see the cities that were extremely effected by the earthquake refer to figure 1. The death toll was extremely overwhelming, at over 20,000 and about 167,000 people were injured. The estimated damage was that nearly one million homes were damaged or destroyed; this amounted to over six billion in property damages. And entire cities were completely destroyed, like Anjar and Bachau. Approximately half a million people were left homeless throughout Gujarat and parts of Eastern Pakistan, causing parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia to be in shambles.

India eqiuped a massive rescue effort after the terifying earthquake struck. Among rescue teams from other nations, The Indian Government sent 5,000 soldiers and 40 helicopters and transport planes. Two naval boats were brought in along the coast to work as temporary hospitals while patients were seen by nearly 750 doctors and paramedics.

Along with losing the lives of tens of thousands of people, India lost assets and their economy took a vast downward plunge. Killing over 20,000 cattle, the earthquake also took over 50 multistory buildings that were located in Gujarat’s capital, Ahmedabad. So not only did India not have the resources it needed for a healthy economy, its historical artifacts were also destroyed and/or damaged. Many of the buildings located in India are not built with licensed building codes from the government so many of the buildings were not up to par for surviving a major earthquake. Many of the poor cities have buildings made out of concrete or like a clay material. This is not a good material to build a building with because in an earthquake these materials just crumble under the pressure. Gujarat, being India’s most industrialized state, caused India to take a very big step back in their industrial economy. Almost 16 million people out of the country’s entire population of 40 million were directly or indirectly affected by this earthquake. But the setting back of India’s industrialization and advancing in future assets, still affects the country today. India took a very large hit when this devastating earthquake occured and it will take them a very long time to rebuild what they have lost. Not only rebuilding the buildings and housing but having to rebuild their industrialization and economy.


Figure 1: Many of the cities located within Gujarat were affected by the massive earthquake in Bhuj. In this figure, you can see these city location and their relate location from the epicenter of the earthquake.
Figure 2 : Here is an example of the devastating results of this Bhuj earthquake. These damages were enormous and this is only one building imagine, what the rest of the buildings on this street looked like.
Figure 3 : This shows a GPS image of India and in particular Bhuj.