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PRELIMINARY NOTE ON THE SRIMANGAL EARTHQUAKE OF JULY 8TH, 1918

MURRAY STURAT (1919) RECORDS OF THE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA


VOLUME XLIX PART 3 PAGE 173-189

Selected Transcription

After a lapse of six years, since the Burma earthquake [1912 Burma earthquake] India
experienced another severe earthquake shock on the afternoon of July 8th, 1918. The shock
was felt over eastern Bengal and Assam, throughout most of Burma, and felt over north-east
India as far west as Lahore. Srimangal is situated in the tea-garden area, and whole valleys of
tea-factories and bungalows were reported to be destroyed.

The earthquake occurred at about ten minutes to four, IST, on the afternoon of July 8th.
Considering the magnitude of the shock the actual loss of life was exceedingly small, owing
to the fortunate circumstance that the earthquake occurred in the afternoon when most people
were awake and outside, while of those who were inside buildings, most were able to escape
into the open before the buildings fell.

As in most earthquakes of the destructive class, the shock near the earthquake center seems to
have come with great suddenness and without any warning. The amount of damage around
the epicentral area was considerable. Practically all the bungalows and leaf- houses on the tea
estates in the Doloi, Balisera, and Laskarpur valleys were laid flat, those only escaping that
had steel girders as a framework, and a steel girder frame for the roof. Even in these cases the
brick walls between the girders were generally shattered, and in most cases thrown down. The
Assam Bengal Railway suffered considerably. The sections Akhaura to Kalaura, Akhaura to
Asuganj, Bhairab to Tangi, Mymensingh to Bhairab, Kalaura to Shaistagang, Kalaura to
Sylhet, and Mymensingh to Netrakona were blocked and train services suspended.
Telegraphic communication with most places in south Sylhet was interrupted, and
considerable damage was done to buildings in Sylhet, Kishorganj, Brahmanbaria, Akhaura,
Agartola, Maulvi Bazar and Habiganj.

The earthquake center seems to have been in the Balisera hills, about 3½ miles south of the
railway at Srimangal, and a little to the east of Dr Mumford’s bungalow at Kalighat. At the
Kalighat tea-estate most of the bungalows, including the Post office and club buildings, fell
towards the east. At Kajurichara estate the general direction of fall was NNE. At Rajghat
estate the general direction of fall was NE. At the Puttiachara estate and Sisal Baria the
general direction of fall was north, while at Srimangal and Phulcherra estate the direction of
fall was towards the south. The directions converge approximately to a point at Kalighat, and
situated in the gap through the hills leading eastwards to the Doloi valley.

Except near the epicenter the earthquake shock seems to have been generally proceeded by a
noise, which in most cases has been linked to the noise made by a railway train crossing an
iron bridge. At the epicenter the earthquake occurred suddenly without any preliminary noise
or tremor, the sudden shock, and the noise of the falling masonry and breaking of wooden

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beams, as the bungalow collapsed, being simultaneous. At the Phulcherra tea estate, two miles
away from the epicenter, a noise, described as a grinding noise with sharp reports, was heard
as if rocks were being split and ground together; this was followed immediately by the
earthquake shock.

The reported duration of the shock varies greatly in different reports, but it seems probable
that the shock was little, if any, more than 20 seconds in duration, near the epicenter.

THE ISOSEISMAL AREA OVER WHICH THE SHOCK WAS FELT

Owing to the fact that there are exceedingly few brick or stone buildings over the area which
was seriously affected, and to the fact that such as do exist vary greatly in nature, and strength
to resist shock, it is impossible to map out isoseists according to the Rossi-Forel scale. Most
of the area where the earthquake was violent enough to damage all or nearly all brick
buildings, consists either of jungle covered hills such as the Hill Tippearh area, or of low
lying land such as that seen in south Sylhet, practically all of which was under water at the
date of the earthquake. Brick buildings are limited therefore almost entirely to Railway
buildings, and to those in isolated places such as Sylhet, Maulvi Bazar, Habiganj, Kishorganj,
Brahmanbaria, Agartala etc., and the buildings and factories of the tea estates in the valleys of
south Sylhet. Consequently I have mapped isoseists on the plan adopted by R.D. Oldham in
his investigation of the Great Indian Earthquake of 1897.

1. All places where the destruction of brick and stone buildings was practically universal.
2. Those places where damage to masonry or brick buildings was universal, often
serious, amounting in some cases to destruction.
3. Places where the earthquake was violent enough to damage all or nearly all brick
buildings.
4. Those places where the earthquake was universally felt, severe enough to disturb
furniture and loose objects, but not serious enough to cause damage, except in a few
instances to brick buildings.
5. Places where the earthquake was smart enough to be generally noticed but not severe
enough to cause any damage.
6. All those places where the earthquake was only noticed by a small proportion of
people who happened to be sensitive, and being seated or lying down were favourably
situated for observing it.

On mapping the isoseists it became evident that they are not circular or even elliptical in
shape, but are egg shaped with the narrow end pointing approximately WNW indicating that
the focus of the earthquake was not a point but a line and that the intensity of the shock was
greater at the ESE end of this line than at the WNW end. This would appear to mean that a
slip occurred along a geological fault which runs approximately WNW- ESE through the
Balisera Hills, just to the east of Kalighat, and the greatest intensity was under the
neighbourhood of Kalighat and from there the intensity diminished in a WNW direction. No
evidence of the existence of such a fault has been obtained hitherto by geological mapping,

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because practically the whole of its length or at least the length along which this slip appears
to have taken place is buried and concealed by alluvium.

The area of maximum intensity included in isoseist 1 is that of Balisera valley and part of
the Doloi valley. With few exceptions all brick buildings were found to be destroyed within
this area. Coolie lines on the tea-estates, built mostly of sun dried mud, and thatch roofs, were
leveled to the ground. The usual type of planter’s bungalow built of poorly burnt bricks, and
very thick, exceedingly heavy, thatched roofs, also collapsed in almost every case. Tea
factories and certain bungalows having steel girder frames were left standing, but the
brickwork in them was either thrown down, or left in a shattered and tottering condition, in
almost every case. There were one or two notable exceptions, particularly at the Bharaura Tea
estate, near Srimangal, where sheltered by the side of the hills the bungalow escaped with
only one or two cracks. Within the area people found it impossible to keep on their feet during
the earthquake.

The isoseist 2 embraces a much larger area, extending from a little west of Shahaji Bazar,
on the Assam Bengal Railway, to between Tilagaon and Kalaura Junction, on the same
railway. It includes practically all the Laskarpur valley, Shamshernagar with its surrounding
group of tea gardens, Maulvi Bazar and Habiganj. Practically all the railway bridges lying
within the area bounded by this isoseist were damaged by the earthquake, in many places
railway embankments settled, and practically all brick buildings were damaged—many,
having only mud instead of mortar between the bricks, were totally demolished. North of the
railway line, with the exception of Habiganj, Maulvi Bazar, and the continuation of the
Balisera Hills north of Srimangal, the rice growing country was nearly all inundated at the
time of the earthquake and consequently offered little opportunity of observing the effects of
the shock.

Isoseist 3 passes approximately through Akhaura, Agartala, Brahmanbaria, Kishorganj and


Sylhet. Most of the area embraced by it is either the jungle-clad hill country of Hill Tipperah
or the low-lying inundated plain of south Sylhet. Well built buildings in this area escaped with
practically no damage, but buildings built of brick and mud, or brick with poor quality mortar,
were either left in a tottering condition, or partly thrown down. At Sylhet many houses in the
bazaar were thrown down, and old pucca buildings that had come through the 1897
earthquake unharmed, such as the Mosque on the river front and the School, were cracked and
left tottering. The Court and the DC’s Offices however were slightly cracked. Kishorganj, at
the first sight, appears to have suffered more than one would have expected from its position
with regard to the epicenter; the SDO’s houses and those of First and Second Munsif being
utterly destroyed and the Jail being half demolished. Each of these was however a poor
quality brick-mud building whose ability to withstand the shock was small. The Munsif’s
Court at Kishorganj, which is a good brick building, escaped practically unharmed and the
railway station, another good building only cracked through subsidence of the bank on which
it is built. The brick portion of the Akhaura Railway station was practically demolished due to
the poor quality of mortar used in its construction.

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Isoseist 4 may be split into two parts, the one passing through Comilla and nearly, but not
quite, reaching to Aijal and Silchar; while the other passes just to the east of Akyab, and from
there would appear to run, in the form of an ellipse, into the Bay of Bengal in a more or less
southerly direction, passing close to but not including Kyaukpyu. The former includes
Mymensingh, Netrakona, and Cherra Poonji. A certain amount of damage to brick buildings
was done in this area but this was due to either weak construction or to the settlement of the
ground. The Deputy Commissioner, Akyab, report that the earthquake shock threw down
loose objects and ornaments and also cracked buildings. The rest of the area being under the
Bay of Bengal, nothing is known about it but the position occupied by isoseists 5 and 6 make
it appear that its shape is elliptical with its long axis running approximately north and south.
The country intervening between these two areas has been fairly well examined, and there
seems no likelihood of any connection between the two.

The next two isoseists are not yet definitely fixed, but their position can be given with fair
approximation. Isoseist 5 contains Darjeeling, Bhagalpur, Dumka, Burdwan, Monywa,
Chittagong, Kyaukpyu, Bassein and does not reach Muzaffarpur, Bankipur, Deogarh,
Calcutta, Mandalay, Prome, Henzada or Rangoon. Even within this area a certain number of
weak buildings were cracked and occasional old houses fell. Isolated cases of objects being
overturned are also reported, such as light glass flasks in a laboratory at Dacca; and the
instance of three out of a number of empty long glass phials being overturned in Calcutta.

What appears to be a case of earthquake ‘shadow’ is exhibited by the area between Kyaukpyu
and Bassein. Both Kyaukpyu and Bassein record a smart earthquake shock, felt distinctly by
everyone, where as the SDO at Ramree reports that he was unaware that any earthquake had
taken place on 8th July, and the Deputy Commissioner, Sandoway, reports only a slight shock
felt by certain people, and not every one.

The last isoseist 6 contains Lucknow, Allahabad, Bilaspur, Sambalpur, Cuttack, Bessein,
Rangoon, Myitkyina, Putao, etc. There are certain anomalies but these may be due to separate
small sympathetic shocks, and not to the main earthquake. For instance the main earthquake
was felt as far as Lucknow, but was not felt at Naini Tal or Dehra Dun. The preliminary
tremors of the earthquake began to register on the Simla Seismograph at 15h55m20s and the
large waves at 15h59m5s IST; there was also a slight local shock, easily perceptible without
instruments between two and 3 minutes to sixteen hours IST. From the Simla Seismograph,
Dr Gilbert Walker, DG of Observatories, recognizes superposed oscillation at 15h57m45s
which he thinks indicate yielding on some fault probably within two or three hundred miles of
Simla.

SURFACE EFFECTS

Cases of sand and water issuing from the ground are common in the epicentral area, and the
instance may be quoted of the Phulcherra Tea Estate where simultaneously with the collapse
of the bungalow, numerous vents occurred on the tennis court from which water and sand
spouted up to a height of several feet. When these subsided the tennis court was found to have
settled irregularly so that instead of being level it was a series of mounds and hollows. Similar

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cases of the spouting out of sand and water are reported from Sylhet, Agartala, Comilla,
Kishorganj and Netrakona. The phenomenon seems to have been exceedingly common
between Gourigram and both Netrakona and Kishorganj, the borrow pits by the side of the
railway line being frequently filled up with sand and mud that had issued through vents; some
of the wells at Netrakona filled up with sand and water and overflowed.

Cracks due to subsidence of the alluvium were not infrequent, but those were almost
invariably parallel to a road, river or embankment. In addition to the above cases occurred of
movement and bending of both tramway and railway lines. The tramway lines in both
Balisera and Doloi valleys were in places moved a distance of several feet laterally from their
alighnment; and at Gaurigram where there is a triangle instead of a turntable to enable railway
engines to turn around, the two sides of the triangle were considerably bent.

THE SRIMANGAL EARTHQUAKE OF 8 TH JULY 1918

MURRAY STUART (1926) MEMOIRS OF THE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA


VOLUME XLVI, PART 1, PAGE 1- 70

THE EPICENTRAL AREA

The tea estates visited by me in the Balisera valley were the Phulchara, Kalighat, Lakhaichara,
Kajurichara, Rajghat, Puttiachara and Sisal Baria. At Phulchara the Manager’s bungalow was
leveled to the ground. The Assistant’s bungalow had only one shattered room standing, and
the factory, which had a steel girder frame, was left in a tottering condition. The factory boiler
shifted, owing to the fracturing of its brickwork foundations, and two of the heavy drying
machines were loosened from their beds. Mr. Lauder, the manager of the Phulchara estate was
just outside his bungalow when the earthquake occurred. He began to run to the bungalow and
was met at the bottom of the steps by Mrs. Lauder who managed to rush out, although bricks
were falling around her as she ran. By this time the intensity of the shock was so great that
they were unable to keep on their feet, and were thrown to the ground, while the bungalow
collapsed with a crash, and on the tennis court numerous vents occurred from which water
and sand spouted up to a height of several feet. When vibration ceased the level court was
found to have settled irregularly into a series of mounds and hollows.

At Kalighat most of the bungalows were leveled to the ground. The Club was flat and all that
was to be seen was the shattered thatched roof on the ground covering the debris of the walls.
The post office had fallen bodily towards the east. The doctor’s bungalow had completely
collapsed, and it was here that the only European death occurred. Mrs. Mumford the wife of
Dr. Mumford being killed instantaneously and another lady pinned down and crushed
by the falling roof and debris. The twisted and bent steel girders testify to the intensity of
the shock. The Kalighat Manager’s bungalow was not down, but was leaning towards the east
at a dangerous angle; its brickwork being badly shattered and cracked was in danger of falling
at any moment. The Kalighat factory was perhaps less damaged than the surrounding

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factories, but the walls were badly cracked and portions of the roof had shifted towards the
east. The walls of the Church were shattered and thrown down, but the roof and iron
framework were left standing.

At Kajurichara the Manager’s bungalow was thrown flat, and from the direction of fall of
verandah pillars and also the gate posts the direction of fall seems to have been NNE. Here,
like other areas great damage had been done to leaf-houses and factory.

At Rajghat the Manager’s bungalow was down, the Assistant’s bungalow partially down and
the remainder tottering; many leaf houses were down and the factory was badly shattered and
broken. It was in the bungalow at this estate that I saw an eight-inch steel girder that had been
broken across as if it had been a fragile stick. Between the factory and the Manager’s
bungalow on this estate is a small stream which for some distance flows SW. During the
earthquake a wave is reported to have come down this stream traveling from NE to SW and to
have washed the banks considerably above the stream level.

The framework of the bungalows at Puttiachara and at Sisal Baria was in each case of steel
girders and this undoubtedly was the reason why the roofs had not collapsed though the
brickwork in the walls shattered and in many cases thrown down.

The damage on the western side of the valley was similar to that caused on the eastern, though
slightly less intense. At Satgaon Tea Estate, the four iron columns in the center of the
Manager’s bungalow held up the roof but walls shattered and most of them down; every
column on the verandah was broken. The roof of the Assistant Manager’s bungalow was a
complete wreck. Various units within the factory including hospital, office etc., was severely
damaged and many walls collapsed.

As already stated in the preliminary report the Bharaura tea estate escaped much damage; the
Jagchara estate, 2½ miles north of Bharaura although damaged but much less than expected.
Buildings were cracked but had not fallen to any extent.

The Patrakhala tea estate in the Doloi valley suffered badly. The Manager’s bungalow was
shattered and the southern end had fallen. Part of the Assistant’s bungalow was down and the
remainder leaning over dangerously. The leaf houses being built entirely of iron were intact
but the end wall of the fermenting house fell to the east.

There are three trolley systems running N-S through the epicentral area and on each the line
had bulged in places towards the east. Other than the tea estates the only place of any
importance situated within the epicentral area is Srimangal. Here many houses were thrown
down in the bazaar and the station building damaged and partially thrown down. Damage
done to the railway line within the epicentral tract does not seem to have been excessive.
Between Srimangal and Satgaon although the bridges and the lines showed evidence of
having been badly shaken, the alignment does not seem to have been very much upset. The
Udna, Billash and the Kalighat bridges show no side or end movement but in both the Udna

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and Billash bridges the abutments sank and closed in. In the pass through the Balisera hills,
between Patrakhala and Kalighat landslips of considerable size were reported.

Effects of the earthquake in some important places

Sylhet [Isoseist 3]: In Sylhet the main shock seems to have been east and west, but
considerable damage was also done in a north and south direction. Practically all the brick
buildings in the bazaar were badly cracked and very many of them fell. The musjid on the
river front near the dak bungalow was badly cracked and seven of its eight minarets fell
outwards. The high School exceedingly cracked and left standing in a tottering condition.
Both these buildings came through the earthquake of 1897 unharmed. The Circuit House,
which is a lath-and-plaster building with iron framework, of the earthquake-proof type
constructed after the 1897 earthquake, had its lath and plaster walls shattered. The outer
walls of the Jail facing east and west were both cracked through close above the ground and
bowed outwards. Just outside Sylhet, along the Peterganj road, several instances were
reported of cracks from which sand and water issued.

Dacca [Isoseist 5]: The earthquake occurred about 5 o’clock (local time). The shock lasted
nearly one minute and was felt by everybody. Several buildings were slightly cracked and a
few very old houses fell.

Calcutta [Isoseist 6]: At Calcutta the earthquake was felt by nearly every one. Only people
who were walking or moving out of doors did not feel it.

The earthquake was recorded on the Alipur seismograph at 15hrs 53min (IST) or 4.16 PM
(Calcutta time). The oscillation was so strong that the seismograph recording pens were
thrown completely off the recording drums. Vibration could be felt continued for more that 5
minutes; when vibrations were greatest buildings and trees could be seen swaying slightly and
the motion of the floor in the observatory at Alipur was distinctly visible. Some time clocks in
the observatory stopped; two of the clocks instead of beating seconds began vibrating rapidly
and indicated 2 or 3 seconds in a period which was not longer than one second, thus gained
more than 2 minutes 38.8 seconds during the earthquake.

Not a great deal of serious damage was done, but ominous cracks appeared in several new and
old buildings in and about Clive Street. In Messrs Gillanders Arbuthnot & Co’s office a crack
8 inches long occurred on the 2nd story, just above the main entrance; the N-E corner of the
Chartered Bank was cracked for about 10 feet; at the old Telegraph office, a zig-zag crack
about 15 feet in length appeared almost under the tower facing Old Court House Street; the
Currency office showed a 12 feet-forked crack over the Mission Row entrance. The Calcutta
Town Hall suffered from the earthquake; The New Municipal Market in College Street
showed a considerable crack over the entrance on Harrison Road; an old dilapidated 2 storyed
building in Telipara Lane near Shyambazar came down. In Howrah a one-storyed house next-
door to the Howrah Roman Catholic Church in Cullen Place, came down within a few
minutes of the upheaval, while a number of huts were razed to the ground.

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Time at Origin: 10h 21m 50s (GMT)

Origin (Epicenter): 24° 15′ N [24.25] 91° 42′ E [91.70]

Depth of Focus: 14 km

Foreshock: There is evidence of two or possibly three foreshocks before the main shock on
8th July. Dr. Mumford reports two from Kalighat in the Balisera valley. The first woke him up
at 2 or 3 AM on 2nd of July. The bed was vibrating and at the same time there was a loud
report at the back of the bungalow as if something had knocked against it. This shock was
also noticed at Phulcherra where a bumping and knocking noise heard. A second foreshock
was felt in the very early hours of 7th July at what Dr. Mumford estimates to have been
12.30 or 1 AM. Another or possibly the same foreshock was reported from the neighbourhood
of Badarpur. It is reported to have occurred in the early hours of the morning of 7th July, and
was noticed by a number of oil-drillers who were at Tintikri (Hilara railway station, near
Badarpur). It was also felt on the Badarpur oilfield, and was sufficiently strong to rouse slight
sleepers.

Aftershocks: A number of aftershocks are reported, some of which were strong enough to be
recorded on the seismograph at the Alipur Observatory, Calcutta. Some of the important ones
are 2 aftershocks on 8th and one on 9th all felt at Shillong; 9 shocks felt on 11th July, reported
from Calcutta (2) and one each from Shillong, Mymensingh, Narainganj, Srimangal, Gauhati,
Berhampur and Chandpur; 4 shocks felt on 12th July one each at Narainganj, Srimangal,
Shillong and Calcutta.

Sympathetic shock: A sympathetic subsidiary shock appears to have originated in the


neighbourhood of Madura (09° 55′ N: 77° 10′ E) within 5 minutes of the Srimangal
earthquake. This has possibly disturbed the Madras sidereal clock. The Kodaikanal and
Colombo Observatory have recorded this shock.

Re- Levelment of the line Silchar to Comilla: The line Silchar to Comilla was originally
leveled in 1911-12. Revision was undertaken in the winter of 1919-20 to investigate whether
any disturbance had taken place during the earthquake of 8th July 1918, the epicenter of which
was reported in the Records of GSI, to be in the Balisera Hills near Kalighat, 3½ miles south
of Srimangal Railway Station. It is to be regretted that the mark-stone of Charamani, H.S.
which was connected by sprit leveling in 1911-12 and the location of which cannot have been
a quarter of a mile from the epicenter, was destroyed by the earthquake and the pillar razed to
the ground. Thus no camparison of this point was possible. The knoll on which the H.S stood
and the spurs immediately south of it bore deep fissures zig-zagging down the hillsides.

The GTS bench marks north of and within a quarter of a mile of Srimangal Railway Station,
which was practically destroyed by the earthquake show no subsidence, nor is there any
evidence of regular disturbance west of Srimangal until the low range of hills six miles west
of it, and lying between Satgaon and Rasidpur is crossed. Three quarters of a mile north of
Rasidpur Railway Station, a tree bench mark at Kamaichara shows practically no alteration; a

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mile and a half west of this the settlement of all bench marks begins. The settlement varies
from one and a half inches to nine inches according to the nature of the soil and type of bench
mark, and continues uninterruptedly past Mirpur dak bungalow, Shaistaganj, and Sahaji Bazar
up to a railway bridge 30 miles from Srimangal near telegraph post No 149-15 which shows
practically no alteration in height. Thereafter settlement is occasional but very small to
Kamalasagar, beyond which no appreciable disturbance has taken place. The bench marks
that have settled include two of the embedded type, but unfortunately none on rock.

Comparing results as far as can be ascertained, no settlement took place in the epicentral area
of northeast of the epicentral axis, but in the area between the epicentral area and Isoseist 2
west south west of the former, settlement up to nine inches occurred. Those bench marks
situated on masonry above ground have generally been disturbed more than those embedded
in the soil, the latter, however show distinct settlement.

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