On January 26th, 2001, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake devastated the state of Gujarat causing extensive damage to life and property. Over 13,881 lives were lost, 300,000 buildings collapsed and twice that number were damaged. As we look back at the disaster since its occurrence, flashback of different experiences twirl over us and those who were a prima facie of the Great Gujarat Earthquake in Bhuj.
At the time the region was already suffering from drought conditions and the result of 2 cyclones in 3 years. 220 out of 276 houses in the village of Patanka were completely destroyed by the earthquake and the rest were severely damaged. The damage to building stock in the region revealed the lack of adequately trained masons in the traditional technology. Irrevocable scars of loss are still etched in our hearts as we mark the 20th anniversary of the devastating Gujarat earthquake. Here’s us remembering one of India’s most disastrous event that has changed our lives forever.
It resulted in a paradigm shift in the policy of the Government from relief and humanitarian assistance oriented post-disaster intervention to a pro-active prevention, mitigation and pre-disaster preparedness. Comprehensive Gujarat State Disaster Management Policy was declared in November 2002. Legal and Regulatory requirement for effective disaster management resulted in enactment of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Act in March 2003. Gujarat is the first State in India to enact an act for disaster management.
Today, we recall and remember the tragedy that will always be in our memories that taught not just one but many lessons. We also took this opportunity to hear from those who have been directly impacted by the earthquake.
Rajeshbhai Naranbhai Akhani, Govt. School Teacher, Radhanpur, Gujarat, India.
“On 26 January 2001, the campus students and staff had gathered on the roof of the College for flag hoisting program. At that moment, we suddenly felt the earthquake tremor and our feet started vibrating. When I looked around, I felt as if all the buildings were swinging. We all rushed down quickly and experienced an atmosphere of fear!
We were completely unaware of what had happened! Gradually after things settled, we came to know that there has been an earthquake in Bhuj and its impact was seen all over Gujarat. With less preparedness measures, we were unaware of our do’s and don’ts! I was worried about my family and children. That atmosphere of fear I can never forget”.
Dineshkumar Prajapati, Govt. School Teacher, Kungher, Gujarat, India.
“I was in Patanka when the earthquake came and was preparing for republic day celebration at my school. Before we could think of anything, the ground was strongly shaking making most of us fall. We later realised the damaged it ultimately caused making all the katcha houses collapse and damaging concrete buildings. We had never seen any such a disaster in our entire lifetime”.
Thakor Rameshbhai Dharsibhai, Farmer and Mason, Patanka, Gujarat, India.
“We were getting ready to hoist the national flag to celebrate Republic Day that day. There was no house left standing everything was shattered because of the tremor. People were so scared that they kept running in panic. The incident did cause a great deal of mental trauma to all of us. It kept going on for a while – even the aftershocks kept coming one after the other”.
Pritesh Babulal Thakor, Support staff at SSNNL, Aabiyana, Gujarat, India.
“I was in the first grade when earthquake hit 20 years back. It was republic day celebration going on in my school and we children thought may be some big fighter jet crashed on our school building. I still can’t forget the disastrous scene I saw around me at that time”.
Ahir Rana Bhai Manabhai, Mason, Patanka, Gujarat, India.
“The moment earthquake hit, we saw electricity poles and school building falling. The scenario was such that for a moment, we thought there was a terrorist attack. Everybody ran out of the school as fast as they could. I am thankful to SEEDS team who reached out to us post disaster and built earthquake resilient houses. Not only did they build houses for us and the community, but they also trained us and further gave an opportunity to pass our learnings in different other states of the country”.
Thakor Maganbhai Dharsibhai, Farmer, Patanka, Gujarat, India.
“2001 Earthquake was the largest earthquake ever experienced by us. Entire Patanka village was under rubble. We were later given jobs by SEEDS too because of which we got the opportunity to travel to different states of the country and train other masons on how to build earthquake resilient houses”.
Rabari Chenabhai Punabhai, Daily wages Labour, Patanka, Gujarat, India.
“On January 26, at around 8:00 am morning we all were all sitting in the house when we felt the shock. We were scared and ran out of the house. Some people were also hurt and were later taken to the hospital. At that time our houses were raw, fragile and we were not very familiar with safe construction. Our house had also collapsed. We were living in a tent for two months. We had nothing as all our belongings were buried under the house. After about a month and a half later, institution SEEDS came and rebuilt many houses including ours as well”.
Aahir Karabhai Ravabhai, Farmer, Patanka, Gujarat, India.
“We felt the tremors. We knew it was an earthquake- a powerful one. We remember that time every day and can’t believe that we witnessed such a disaster in our lives. We had to sleep outside for 15 days open in that cold. Following the earthquake aftershocks which were felt in the night. All the homes had collapsed. I recall that vision with my blur memory, when an officer came to the village, I saw him walking through the collapsed village. Government and many organisations supported us throughout and we also put our savings to re build a new house. Good or bad, everyone had to kneel before the God in the form of this natural calamity!”
Gautam Thakor, Site Supervisor with SEEDS.
“I was just five years old when the Great Gujarat earthquake hit parts of the state. I still remember, we were all gathered in our school’s assembly area ready for flag hoisting and then suddenly we saw our old school building collapsing in front of our eyes. Some new buildings got cracked too. We were so scared that for about a month we did not even enter our houses fearing that it may collapse over us. As I stand here an speak, I look back and see the kind of change has happened over the years. Our schools, communities, all have started giving the due importance to learning on disasters and how to keep ourselves safe when an incident like that occurs!”
Shivangi Chavda, Project Coordinator, Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR)
“Being an earthquake survivor and then stepping into the humanitarian sector for the first time, the mission was to rise the people from the rubble. Engagement with communities was full of experiences and anecdotes!”
Chandra Bhakuni, Structural Engineer, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
“In last 20 years from our experiences in Patanka, I have realized things are destined for a better future. If people can work together with sacrifice, love and charity, it’s the best time to do so, because that’s all the time we have!”
Ms. Rekha Shenoy.
“The Kutch earthquake rehabilitation, in a small way, is a part of my story. I feel extremely fortunate to be part of this story where I have spent substantial period of my productive career. As a development worker, it was my first stint in disaster recovery, rehabilitation, and development. I was a student in the classroom of Kutch. I witnessed astonishing rise of Kutch from rubble. Within one year, the rural rehabilitation was complete. I watched the speed in which four earthquake affected towns were rebuild with improved town planning and infrastructure. I watched in awe the revival of arts and crafts as well as restoration of architectural heritage. I saw the emergence of brand-new Kutch and I left with a sense of pride after seven eventful years of my life. There are many ways to narrate the story of Kutch. It is an extraordinary story of effective reconstruction and rehabilitation policy framework of Government of Gujarat which responded with great sense of urgency and sensitivity to the challenges
of rehabilitation. It is a story of vibrant civil society which helped the communities to make an informed choice of recovery and rehabilitation through dissemination of technology and best practices. It an amazing story of whole nation and diaspora reaching out to Kutch. Last but not the least- It is a remarkable story of spirit and resilience of Kutchis.
The fundamental to this story is relentless work of local visionaries NGOs and their commitment to the region. Experts say, it was one of the fastest and smoothest rehabilitation in the world. As local civil society leader rightly says- “Kutch has set a precedent for rehabilitation”.