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Bhutan After shock

On the evening of 18th September  at around 6.40pm a strong earthquack measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale hit Bhutan  and wave of panic gripped people across the country .

They lasted for less than a minute and was felt more in western Bhutan. It sent people pouring outdoors and kept them out for hours in fear of aftershocks. According to reports, it was milder in the east.

The quake’s epicentre was 64km from Gangtok, Sikkim, India, the tremors of which were also felt 160km away in Thimphu. It’s reported that at least 15 people are feared dead and 100 injured.

While no casualties have been reported so far in Bhutan, cracks to buildings were reported in some parts of the country.

In Thimphu, the referral hospital’s emergency ward saw three trauma cases, and two cases of disjointed shoulders of people who had fallen during the tremor.

What the earthquake expert said
“This earthquake is expected to cause severe damage, because the magnitude is large and it’s a shallow earthquake with hypocentre at 10 to 20 km below the surface,” earthquake expert and geologist Dr Karma Kuenza said in an email interview.The preliminary Richter magnitude of 6.8 is much larger than the Tashigang earthquake of September 2009, which had a magnitude of 6.1, he said, although the current magnitude reading could be revised in the next few days.

“Even for the current magnitude, the severity of the seismic shaking and the consequent damage is greater for shallow earthquakes, compared to deep earthquakes,” he said.

The shaking intensity from the earthquake will become less, as it goes further away from the epicenter. The current earthquake that hit Bhutan is just 90km away from the epicentre and its tremors were felt strongly in Thimphu even though it is 160km from epicentre.

“So we should expect nearer regions, such as Paro and Haa, to experience more damage,” Dr Karma Kuenza said. “However, even faraway places, which are located in geologically weak areas, are highly susceptible to strong shaking and damage.”

Experts said they have been expecting earthquakes in the region for some time now, because it has not experienced large earthquakes for more than 200 years, although the Indian plate has been subducting (going underneath) under the Eurasian plate at about 2 to 5 cm per year, accumulating slip potential of about 4 m.

“Seismologists have predicted that the area where yesterday’s earthquake occurred is prone to a great earthquake of magnitude 8,” he said.

Despite receiving special attention during the midterm review of the need to set up seismic stations to prepare and predict earthquake hazards in the country, seismic stations are yet to be set up in Bhutan.

The depth of 20 km of yesterday’s quake means the initial rupture in the earth occurred 20km below the ground surface. “The depth could be as less as 10km and as great as 200km,” the expert said. “However, deep earthquakes cause far less ground shaking than shallow ones.”

The Richter magnitude is directly related to the shaking amplitude of the ground, he explained, and said that, after a few days, a more accurate magnitude called Moment Magnitude, which is directly related to the energy produced by the earthquake, and size of the ground rupture during the earthquake, will be calculated and issued.

An aftershock of 4.6 magnitude was again felt yesterday, which Dr Karma Kuenza explained, is the reaction of the ground or earth to readjust after it’s disturbed by the release of energy.

“It could happen immediately after the main earthquake or a few hours or even days after the main event,” he said. “Nobody can predict exactly at which time the aftershock will happen.”


The three women who were traumatised were all students of the institute of language and culture studies in Semtokha.

“The hostel filled with screams, as things started to fall and make all kinds of noises, and within seconds it was a chaos as everyone started for the exit,” counsellor Kinley Pem said, with panic in her eyes.

In the meantime, patients scrambled to get out of hospital, along with their drips and carrying their glucose bottles.

“I saw patients screaming and struggling to run. They were limping and holding on to each other with glucose bottles in their hands,” a nurse on duty said. “Some fell and I didn’t know whether to help them or run for my own life, because I was sure the building would collapse with that kind of a tremor.”

The hospital building suffered several cracks, as bottles of beer and glasses fell off the shelves in restaurants and bars.

In Paro, the Ta dzong(national museum) suffered some structural damage, while some buildings in Phuentsholing town have also cracked from the tremor.

A massive landslide in Phuentsholing buried a Spark car, which was on its way to the hospital. The driver managed to escape.

In Dagana, the quake has damaged Phunsum community primary school in Lajab gewog.

About nine houses in three gewogs of Samtse were reported damaged by the quake. In Bara gewog, sounds of houses collapsing were heard over the phone, said relatives of the villagers.

How much damage the earthquake caused across the country however could not be compiled as the cellular network was severely disrupted. Power cuts were also reported throughout the country.

Except for landline and Tashi Cell network, cellular services remained broken and jammed for hours.

“It’s very frustrating because the phone lines are all down,” a disaster management official said. “Failure of connectivity in such a disastrous moment in itself is a grave disaster,” another official said.

The Prime Minister,Jigmi Y Thinley on Facebook requested the people of Bhutan to remain calm and alert.

“Dear friends, phone lines remain clogged reflecting our caring and close knit society,” Lyonchhoen wrote. “Please remain calm and alert and may the blessings of the triple gem protect us as always.”

Prime Minister  wrote that no damage is reported from east Bhutan; four roadblocks caused by falling debris reported on the Chukha – Phuentsholing road; two homes in Haa reported to be damaged with three out of four people having suffered minor injury; Thimphu Dzong has sustained some cracks in the Utse and one of the four corner towers; Occupants have been moved out to safer parts.