The Aftermath of an Earthquake in India Postcard (Part 2)

Last week we looked at a postcard from India showing the aftermath of an earthquake. Tonight we look at another image that I believe was taken at the same time as the last. this image shows a much larger crowd, surveying a scene of destruction:

The crowd is made up of a mixture of British troops and local Indian men:

All seem pretty cheerful considering the destruction around them:

Whilst most of the crowd seem to be onlookers and just enjoying the spectacle of destruction, a small contingent of British soldiers seem to be using a fire extinguisher in the hope of extinguishing the flames that are presumably responsible for the smoke that can be seen billowing across the image:

The following account of the 1935 Quetta Earthquake on the North West Frontier (which I suspect may be the subject of these images) comes from the RAF’s No 5 Squadron based in Baluchistan:

The Royal Air Force lines comprising No. 3 (Indian) Wing, No. 5 (AC) Squadron and No. 31 (AC) Squadron were in the direct line of the Earthquake. The Single Officers Quarters and some of the married quarters were situated about a mile and a half from the Airmen’s Barracks.

Owing to the fact that they had comparatively small rooms they either withstood the shaking long enough to allow the occupants to escape before they collapsed or else were only partially destroyed. Thus although the majority of the occupants were partially buried or slightly injured, only one was so seriously hurt that he could not go to the assistance of the less fortunate families in the Lower quarters. These bungalows, situated South of Quetta – Pishin Railway Line about 3/4 mile from the Airmen’s Barracks all suffered very badly. The inside walls and ceilings collapsed at the first shock jambing all the doors. The windows, which were usually kept open at night, were covered on the outside with strong extended steel netting to keep out thieves. This proved just as effective for keeping the occupants in and some time was spent releasing these families and making the injured comfortable as possible.

The greatest shock awaited the rescue party when it reached the airmen’s lines. What had once been the Airmen’s Barracks was now nothing but a series of detached heaps of brick rubble with the tin roofs resting, torn and twisted on the top. A few survivors were wandering among the ruins in a stunned condition, calling to trapped inmates. A few were desperately digging down with their bare hands trying to release their buried friends. In all, not more than 50 men were clear of the wreckage, most of these were injured.

The rescuers started work under three great handicaps, firstly there was no light, great clouds of dust, cut off what little help they could have hoped for from the stars, all electric light cables were down, dawn did not come until about 6.30 a.m. Secondly, they had nothing to dig with except their hands and were mostly dress [sic] only in pyjamas, few had shoes and nearly all had been cut, or bruised by broken glass and falling bricks. Thirdly, their work was continually being undone, by fresh tremors, which occurred at frequent intervals during the first few hours, often reburying a victim who had just been on the point of release and forcing workers hurriedly to vacate the Neighbourhood of any wall or roof. As many of the men could only be reached by crawling under roof trusses or through holes torn in the corrugated iron sheeting, into positions from which rapid exit was impossible, rescue work was very dangerous and the courage with which men who had only just been dug out returned, in pitch darkness, into these dangerous positions was beyond praise.

Immediately before dawn a battalion of the Punjabis, who had been on a night march, came to our assistance and, as they brought with them their trenching tools, were of immense value and greatly speeded up the rescue work. At about 8 a.m. a section of light tanks arrived and were at once set to work pulling the heavy roofs off the ruins. This also was of great value in enabling rescue workers to get into the centre of the wreckage. The last survivor was extracted at noon. The last body was removed at about 4.p.m. A bull terrier was found alive and uninjured 36 hours after the disaster when search was being made for kit and personal belongings. It was found that many of the victims died from suffocation. The ceilings of the bungalows were made of mutty nearly one foot thick held in position by wire netting. This mutty caused a great cloud of dust among the ruins and may [sic] of the men, who were under Mosquitoe [sic] nets, were unable to breath [sic] owing to the dust and tightness of the nets over their faces. The wire netting and mosquitoe nets also hampered the rescue workers who, having no cutting instruments had to tear them away by main force.

If possible the buildings occupied by the Indian Air Force personnel and followers were in an even worse condition than those of the British Airmen and not a single man escaped uninjured. Owing to the fact that many of the followers had entire families sleeping in their quarters the death roll was enormous and it is impossible to give an accurate estimate of the casualties in this part of the camp. The only Officers killed was the Orderly Officer, Pilot Officer Charles R. Paylor who had joined the squadron only two months earlier. He was sleeping in No. 3 (Indian) Wing Orderly Room down at the Airmen’s Lines and the building like all the other officers, collapsed at the first shake.

One comment

  1. Following the earthquake in Quetta the military were asked to come up with a form of construction that was earthquake resistant. They developed a method that is now called Quettabond brickwork. This was a cavity wall with the cavity filled with reinforced concrete with the rebars extending through the floors and ceiling to provide a crush proof box. A lot of WW2 civil defence buildings were of this construction. It was used for retaining walls as well. Modern techniques have superceeded it.

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