Every year, residents of Killari village in Maharashtra’s Latur district observe a ‘black day’ on September 30. This was the day when a devastating earthquake struck the Latur-Osmanabad region 25 years ago, killing around 10,000 people and injuring several others. Although so much time has passed, people are still coming to terms with life and some are even waiting for compensation for damages suffered in the massive disaster.
The tragedy dealt a double blow to farm labourer Tanaji Suryavanshi, who not only lost several family members, including his 10-year-old son, but also had to part with his 6.5 acre farm which was taken away by the government for re-settling the survivors. The villager, who is in his 50s and lives in a tin-roofed hut in Killari with his wife and a 13-year-old son, said he never got financial compensation or an alternate land.
He is now also debt-ridden since he borrowed money for his daughter’s marriage, but is living in the hope that he would get a house and compensation. “September 30 is a ‘black day’ for Killari and the entire village shuts down that day to mark the anniversary of the tragedy,” Suryavanshi said. Recalling the tragedy, he said, “I was at the Ganesh ‘visarjan’ (immersion) procession when the quake struck. I rushed home immediately only to find my stone-made house reduced to rubble.”
He managed to pull out his wife, mother and brother from the debris, but his father, 10-year-old son, his brother’s three children and sister-in-law succumbed to their injuries on the spot. “My mother and brother died later. My wife received head injuries and has been surviving on medication,” he said. His wife Savita gets teary eyed whenever she remembers their dead son.
Suryavanshi said during the Ganesh festival, villagers recall the horror and still fear for their lives. He said over the last 25 years, he has made several trips to the state relief and rehabilitation department to pursue his demand for compensation as a quake survivor. “I moved court as well but haven’t got justice. The hope for justice and giving a better life to my son is the only reason I am pulling along,” he said.
Another Killari resident Prashant Harangule, 51, whose house was damaged and family members injured in the tragedy, recalls experiencing tremors every 5 minutes after the quake. “When the rumour spread about Terna dam having burst due to the quake, many of the survivors fled in panic. We had to live in a transit camp for around three years,” he said. Harangule said his father was the strongest member in the family and gave everyone courage to bear the calamity.
“His message was – trust God and carry on with life,” he said. Harangule said he got a bank loan of Rs 22,000 to set up a grocery shop. “Many survivors did not get compensation to re-set their units but banks stepped in to help. The crisis taught us to face hurdles successfully and win,” he said.
Madhukar Chavan, the five-term Congress MLA from Tuljapur in the neighbouring Osmanabad which also bore the brunt of the quake, said, “A lot of help came but the wounds never healed even as survivors tried to move on in life.” Killari’s deputy sarpanch Ashok Potdar, a doctor by profession, said tremors were felt in the area from October 1992 till June 1993.
“Locals would hear sound like that of a blast. There was an atmosphere of fear. A team of scientists and geologists had visited the place and told us that an earthquake is unlikely, but locals left their homes and went to stay in open fields,” he recalled. Senior Congress leader Shivraj Patil, who was then the Lok Sabha member from Latur, appealed to people to return to their homes, Potdar said.
He said authorities told them of the precautions to be taken following which locals returned to their homes in June and later, the quake struck in September that year.