8-14 May 2015 #757

Monitoring the aftershocks

National Seismological Centre has been busy since the earthquake of 7.8 magnitude
Stéphane Huët


Lok Bijaya Adhikari (pic) hasn’t slept much these last six nights. Like all the members of his team, the chief of National Seismological Centre has been busy since the earthquake of 7.8 magnitude that shook Nepal last week.

Adhikari was in his house with his family when the ground started shaking at 11.56am this 25 April. “Nobody was at the office, as it was Saturday,” he says.

After checking if his children and wife were safe, he jumped on his cousin’s bike heading to Lainchaur. “Duty first,” he says. “I could have monitored the earthquake from home, but the network wasn’t working.”

The chief of National Seismological Centre was soon joined by seismologists, Umesh Gautam, Ratnamani Gupta and Bharat Koirala, as well as system engineer, Eric Sauvage. Later, the deputy director general of Department of Mines and Geology completed the team.

The National Seismological Centre had a difficult time after the first earthquake. One of the two computers was down. The signals received at the laboratory were saturated, so the magnitude couldn’t be determined. “We had to wait for Surkhet’s centre to send the data,” says Adhikari. They received it right before the 6.6 aftershock.

The conditions were terrible. There had been 38 aftershocks higher than a magnitude of 4, after the first earthquake till midnight. There were 11 more till 3am the next day. However, the team had to stay in the building to process the data that would be immediately sent to the authorities. “We stayed here 24-hours a day, taking shifts,” says Gupta. “Some of us went home only on 1 May.”

The role of the National Seismological Centre is to monitor earthquakes in Nepal and pass on the information to the Home Ministry. But it has been doing much more since 25 April.

In addition, the chief of the centre had to talk to media and work on some crisis management – which are the responsibilities of the Home Ministry. Adhikari specifies, “It seems that people don’t trust the administration. They want to talk to someone with a technical background.”

Things got worse when there were rumours about a potential bigger earthquake. Adhikari says a seismological centre can estimate the magnitude and the approximate region of a coming earthquake. “But it’s impossible to predict when it will happen,” he insists.

Ten days after the Gorkha earthquake, the workers of the National Seismological Centre seem relieved, but tired. “There will be lesser aftershocks of lower intensity now,” says Adhikari. Nevertheless, the team stays alert. Mattresses are still lying on the floor where some of them will sleep tonight.

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