Roads, telecom, airport weather quakes, keep Nepal connected

roads-telecom_20150514095519Three major lifelines—the major highways, the telecommunication network and the Kathmandu airport—have survived three massive back-to-back earthquakes and continue to serve as connectors to the inside and outside world.

Following the 7.9 magnitude earthquake on April 25, the country once again suffered a 7.3 magnitude tremor on Tuesday.

This was in addition to a 6.7 magnitude aftershock on April 26. Still, these basic infrastructures have played a key role in helping the country get back on its feet.

There were no damages reported on the ageing runway of the country’s sole aerial gateway—Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).

In April 2011, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, in coordination with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and others, had studied seismic vulnerability of structural and non-structural elements at the airfield.

Subsequently, a comprehensive report was prepared in April 2012, entitled ‘TIA Disaster Response Plan’, that showed full access to the airport would be feasible within 72 hours after a major earthquake.

According to the report, under both visual flight rules and instrument flight rules, the runway can support approximately 40 operations (take-off and landing) per hour, down from 120 per hour. However, the airport managed to handle a record 447 flight movements on April 30 alone.

TIA was closed for no more than three hours when the Great Earthquake hit the airport on April 25. On Tuesday too, it was closed only for two hours. “As the runway remained intact, it did not affected flight movement,” said Birendra Kumar Shrestha, general manager at TIA. “There has been some damage to the airport’s terminal building, but fortunately, nothing happened to the runway.” Rescue flights were dispatched to different areas immediately after the quakes hit the country.

The deadly April 25 quake had raised concerns about whether the five-decade-old runway would be able to sustain another major tremor. But despite skepticism, TIA proved to be a lifeline that kept Nepal connected with the outside world.

Major highways have also done wonders. A preliminary report suggests that except for a few road networks, a majority of Nepal’s highways and road networks have not seen substantial damages.

According to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Roads, the Lamosanghu-Barabishe road stretch in Sindhupalchok and the Trishuli-Dhunchhe stretch in Rasuwa were damaged by landslides triggered by Tuesday’s quake. “Except for a few, major highways in different parts of the country are safe for vehicles,” said Tulshi Sitaula, secretary at the ministry. The major entry point and the supply lifeline for the Kathmandu Valley—Thankot—has also remained intact.

Telecommunication has proved to be another exemplary service infrastructure during the disaster. “There was no obstruction to the communications systems on Tuesday, but due to heavy traffic, mobile communication was very busy,” said Buddhi Prasad Acharya, managing director at Nepal Telecom.

According to Acharya, traffic jumped three times, compared to other days, after Tuesday’s quake. “Despite some odds, telecommunication has played a key role in keeping people connected,” said Acharya.


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