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Tremors jolt city into panic, fear

KARACHI, April 16: Seconds after powerful tremors jolted Karachi and other parts of the country on Tuesday, fear and panic gripped the city as thousands of people dashed out of residential and commercial buildings while the authorities admitted that they lacked ‘enough capacity and resources to handle the situation after a disaster of that magnitude’.

scenes of panic were mostly observed in district South where there are a large number of high-rise office buildings and multi-storey residential apartments along the beach front.

Thousands of workers and residents fled office and residential buildings, a large number of them screaming and reciting Quranic verses.

Meanwhile in commercial parts of the city, business centres closed and major market were shuttered down as business activities stopped for more than an hour. Fortunately, no major damage was reported from anywhere in the megapolis, though the authorities said that they had ‘activated’ all rescue machinery and human resource to tackle the situation.

“Our urban search and rescue team of 75 members and all required machinery was moved immediately,” said directer municipal services Dr Shaukat Zaman. “Moreover, 1,200 firemen and 2,200 members of the machinery pool were also called in and deployed in sensitive areas. There was no report of any major incident from any part of the city.”

Answering a question, he said that Karachi had around 250 ‘vulnerable’ high-rises mostly in district South and served as residential complexes. The situation could be ‘disastrous’ in case of any major calamity.

“We give our 100 per cent. However, the city has expanded a lot and that too in an unorganised way. We are not capable of handling a disaster of that magnitude,” said Dr Zaman. “If anything, if God forbid, should happens then we would definitely need assistance of the Pakistan Army or any other institution.”

Though Pakistan has a high density of active faults and is one of the most seismically active areas in Asia, the position of Karachi and Makran coastal region is more precarious because of the formation of a triple junction of three seismic plates a few miles off the coastline.

The plates — Eurasian plate, Indian plate and the Arabian plate — form a troublesome triple junction where the Arabian plate is subducting (pushing downwards and sideways) under the Eurasian plate, thus creating a ‘subduction zone’ called the Makran Subduction Zone (MSZ) in the seismology world.

The MSZ has the potential of triggering a tsunami and it is so near to the coast that in case anything happens, people in the city would only have a few minutes to react and run for their lives before the killer waves hit the shore.

Moreover, Karachi is surrounded by three fault lines in the north, west and east. The western fault line lies near Hub while the northern fault line lies in the well-developed Khirthar fold. Apart from that, active surface scrap had also been identified in the Korangi area, the so-called Korangi fault. Other nearby fault lines which can affect the city include Kulri Fault, Sonmiani Fault, Windar Fault, Ornach Nal Fault, Bela Fault, Pab Fault, Jhimpir Fault, Takhar Fault and Surjani Fault.

However, nature has so far spared the city from any major hazard. Keeping in view the quality of construction, combined with the mushroom growth of high-rise buildings in the city, any natural calamity might prove to be catastrophic.