Amitava Banerjee, HT, 23 May 2015, DARJEELING: The recent spate of tremors has managed to rob the smiles from the ever cheerful faces of Darjeeling residents. A large section, especially kids and the elderly, is suffering from earthquake-induced trauma.
“Of the 50 patients I checked today around 10 were suffering from earthquake-induced trauma. Every day I treat similar cases. There are numerous cases where the patient has been hospitalised as the trauma has aggravated existing diseases like palpitation, insomnia, unexplained vertigo, gastritis, hypertension, depression and even asthma,” said Dr Plaban Das.
The trauma has given rise to anxiety disorders including agoraphobia (anxiety and intense fear of any situation where escape may be difficult, or where help may not be available), thanatophobia (fear of death), claustrophobia (the fear of having no escape and being in closed or small spaces or rooms).
“During the quakes many spent nights outdoors in the cold and rain. There were numerous cases of pneumonia, asthma, rhinitis and other infections related to cold,” added Dr Das.
Continuous discussion regarding the probability of another quake or aftershock, rumors of timings of the next quake and the magnitude has further worsened the situation, feels the doctor.
The worst-affected are students and parents of kindergarten students. Many of the parents prefer to sit outside the schools the entire school hours. “Earlier I used to leave my kid who is in playschool and again return to collect him. On the day of the quake my son was in school and was badly shaken. Now I wait outside the gates for the entire 3 hours of school time,” said Diksha Thapa.
Reports of probability of future large magnitude quakes have further aggravated the situation. “Every day we read of the probability of high magnitude aftershocks. If something happens suddenly we can manage but the fear of yet another quake or aftershock is eating us,” said Nilu Gurung, a local.
A majority of the students are traumatised. “I can’t concentrate on my studies. At home I feel that any moment I will find the ground shaking. The situation is worse at school. My school is surrounded by high-rise market complexes (visible from the school). I always feel these structures will collapse on us,” said Basu Chettri, a class 9 student.
Even teachers have not managed to escape the trauma. “We sometimes feel claustrophobic in the classrooms. Most of the school buildings in Darjeeling are very old so the threat perception is always there. We advice students not to panic but we ourselves are shaken by this series of quakes. Never in my life had I witnessed such a series of never-ending tremors,” said Deben Chhetri, a high school teacher.
“We have to learn to live with this. However, we have to be prepared. Schools need to introduce drills. Students need to be sensitised regarding natural disasters. It should be made part of the curriculum,” said Wing Commander (Retd) Prafulla Rao of “Save the Hills”, an NGO.
“On May 26 we will have a disaster management meeting in Siliguri. We will be taking up programmes to sensitise masses regarding such calamities which will include dos and don’ts in such situations,” said Anurag Srivastava, Darjeeling DM.