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Rumour triggers panic; half of Patna's residents spend night in the open


Patna: Abhishek Mishra just refused to go back home. So did Madan Gupta and his family. They decided to spend the night in the open at Gandhi maidan in Patna. They were not alone. The fear of a fresh round of high-intensity tremor forced almost half of Patna's population to vacate their homes last night. They took shelter in parks and whatever open space they could find.
“Jan hi nahin rahegi to kya hoga sir? Ham to puri raat yahin gujarenge (what’s the use of homes when we are not alive?)" said Mishra, with panic written all over his face. His wife Sneha clutched his hand tightly to ensure they never get separated if disaster struck.
The panic was apparently triggered by a WhatsApp message reportedly shared by a former legislator from Narpatganj in Araria which went viral on the social media. The message quoting the meteorological department, Chhatisgarh, said an earthquake of high magnitude with 13.4 on the Richter scale will hit Bihar twice during the night—first between 10.36 pm and 11.47 pm and next between 1.42 am and 2.20 am. It asked the masses to share it with a maximum number of people and take precautionary step.
Rescue workers remove debris as they search for victims of earthquake in Bhaktapur near Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, April 26, 2015. AP
Rescue workers remove debris as they search for victims of earthquake in Bhaktapur near Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, April 26, 2015. AP
By late Saturday evening, the state disaster management office and police office were flooded with thousands of calls from people seeking more information. Eventually, the state authorities had to hold a press conference late on Saturday night to quell their fears. They described it as a rumour and advised them not to panic. The government also said a case has been registered against the legislator, who is currently out of the state. However, by the time the government could swing into action, nearly half of Patna’s population had already fled their homes with family members and settled in various city parks. Many rushed there with food items, water bottles, and had hurried dinner there on the ground.
As all efforts to send them back to their homes failed Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar eventually made rounds of various city parks and asked them not to worry saying the government was with them. He even directed the police to keep a constant vigil on the citizens taking shelter in the parks and the open ground and take care of their safety. In fact, Nitish had gone to Delhi to attend a meeting over merger of the six parties but he cancelled all his programmes and returned to Patna on Saturday afternoon after coming to know about the high intensity quake hitting the state.
The rumour mongering intensified by the frequency of the quake which continued hitting the state at regular intervals leaving the masses in a state of constant panic all through the day and the night. They just didn't want to take any chances. As per a report of the meteorological department, the state experienced at least 19 tremors in a gap of six hours with three of severe magnitude. The deadliest which hit the region at 11.41 in the morning was recorded at 7.9 on the Richter scale. Subsequently, the city population was seen fleeing homes at regular intervals. The quake has killed at least 60 people so far although the officials confirm only 35 deaths. The maximum deaths were reported from districts located close to border with Nepal which was epicenter of the quake.
Bihar assembly Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary who too fled the meeting hall leaving behind audience recounts he had never faced such a tremor in his lifetime. “I was addressing the audience when I experienced the tremors and ran out of the venue. I had felt tremors in the past as well but this one was horrible and it lasted for long,” Chaudhary said.
Similar was the experience of other residents. “I had experienced quite a few such tremors in the past but this one was horrifying. The earth began shaking and shaking, and it continued for long,” said Chandra Deo Pathak, a local residents.
Panic reigned in other district of the state too. At Darbhanga Medical College and Hospitals, several attendants were seen fleeing the hospital wards with patients on stretchers and saline water bottles in hands still being administered to them. In Patna Medical College and Hospital, many doctors who were conducting surgeries at the operation theatres fled the scene in gowns. In Ara, a constable jumped from the roof of the police office building after feeling tremors and landed in a hospital bed.
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