At 10:31 PM, on 12 February, Waheed Sofi was going about his usual business of scrolling through feeds of his social media handles.
Sofi, 32, had just settled into his bed and was about to pull up the heavy quilt over him when he felt a sudden jolt that shook his house and things nearby. It was an earthquake, he thought. For a moment he waited thinking that the earthquake was over, however, seconds later there was another shake and he forced his way out of the quilt and then his house only to find shocked neighbors already on the streets.
An earthquake had yet again jolted the Kashmir valley and people around were sharing their reasons for rushing out of their houses, “My father is not scared of the earthquakes, while everyone among our family was running out for our lives, he was calm. It was us who forced him out,” Sofi recalled a neighbor telling him.
According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale hit Tajikistan, the tremors of which were also felt in Delhi and other parts of north India including Jammu and Kashmir.
Adding that the earthquake struck the Central Asian country at 10:31 p.m. on Friday. The tremors were felt for more than 30 seconds in New Delhi and other areas including Jammu and Kashmir.
For the Srinagar mechanical engineer though, the reason to leave his house was quite simple, the devastating 2005 earthquake, “I remember the day and how it wreaked havoc in Kashmir and other parts of Pakistan,”
In the fall of 2005, an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude rattled the Kashmir valley.
According to the Earthquake Disaster Risk Index Report 2019, about 1500 deaths were reported and 4,50,000 buildings collapsed in Kashmir due to the earthquake.
While the Saturday earthquake was not as strong as that of October 2005, it was enough to rattle a few feathers and bring chills among the populace who live in Seismic Zone V – which is the most active region where some of the powerful earthquakes can occur.
The same was evident on the streets of Kashmir and on social media where people invoked God and humor to shrug off the fear associated with the earthquake.
It also led to minor damage of houses in the north and central Kashmir, Sofi too was concerned about his house which had suffered damage in 2005, however, this time around there was nothing to worry about. “Thankfully the renovation was intact and it did not suffer damage,” he said.
He however was concerned about the future and a stronger earthquake hitting the valley. The earthquake also took him to the days of the early October of 2005 when he was a 17-year-old boy. The earthquake had disturbed him and the fear had lingered for days. “I remember it was Ramadan and I was not fasting, in fact, I was having morning tea when I felt a very strong shake in the house as if someone was running on the second floor. I thought it was one of my younger cousins playing upstairs, but then I realized he was not at home. That’s when I started running,” he recalled.
Adding that the fearful eyes of his neighbors are something he will always remember, “That was doomsday, from the next day I started praying and fasted for the rest of the month. Such was the fear,” Sofi said. “The aftershocks and rumors were even scarier,” he pointed out.
Following the earthquake, there were rumors of further earthquakes and the aftershocks made it more plausible, “I will never forget those days of agony,” he said.
Sofi is not the only one to have been affected by the Friday earthquake. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah were among the thousands to take to their social media handles to write about the incident.
In a tweet, Abdullah said the tremors forced him to move out of his house as the “ground was shaking”.
He also recalled the 2005 earthquake. “Not since the earthquake of 2005 have the tremors in Srinagar been bad enough to force me out of the house. I grabbed a blanket and ran. I didn’t remember to take my phone and so was unable to tweet ‘earthquake’ while the damn ground was shaking,” he tweeted.
While the seismic position and history are among the reasons that bring Kashmiris out of their houses without caring about the timing, the prediction of a devastating earthquake makes it easier for the inhabitants to leave their comfort zones and run for safety.
In 2019 according to a report by a news-gathering agency, Press Trust of India, scientists had said that a mega-earthquake of magnitude 8.5 or more was long overdue in the Himalayan region but India had not learned from past mistakes and was far from being prepared for such an eventuality with no strategy to minimize loss of life and property.
Scientists from various fields of expertise concurred that an earthquake of the magnitude of 8.5 or more is likely to rock the Himalayan region.
While it remains to be seen whether such an earthquake will ever hit Kashmir, the valley needs to have the expertise to know what the hazards are. Engineers can work out the vulnerability of the structures and tell the mechanism by which they can be made resistant so that both lives and properties are saved.
Implementing these would reduce the risk to human lives and property in the event of a disaster.