By I.C. R. Prasad, Lighthouse Keeper, Alleppey Lighthouse, India
It was 8:00 a.m., January 26, 2001, not the beginning of a typical day at this Indian light station. Today the nation of India was celebrating its 50th Republic Day. The head light-keeper of Mandvi Lighthouse in the Gulf of Kutch started climbing the spiral stairs of the old bastion of Mandvi Fort where the 21m high circular masonry tower of Mandvi Lighthouse stands. After climbing the 10m high bastion he patiently waited for his assistants who were to report there for the National Flag Hoisting Ceremony.
Glancing from the top of the bastion, which was used as an observation tower of Mandvi Port for many years, he could see the Mandvi town under the transparent shroud of January frost. Inside the port there were several vessels anchored, ready to load common salt from the local salt mines.
The then ruler of Kutch, Rao Khongarji in the year 1580, built the port. To protect the country from pirates and other enemies, forts were constructed at Mandvi and Kachhigadh in the 17th century. Even though armed contingents were stationed at Kachhigadh year round, Mandvi Fort was mostly used as an observation post. In the earlier days, whenever a ship was expected, a flag in the daytime and a fixed light in the night were hoisted on a mast on the bastion to guide the mariners. When the vessel traffic increased, a fixed light inside an optic was installed in 1873. Twelve years later a flashing light with group flash (3) 30 seconds was introduced. The next improvement came in 1949 in the form of a 4th order lens. The present tower was equipped with a modern optic 1000W installed in 1964.
By 8:15 am all of the lighthouse staff in full dress uniforms reported near the flag mast at the outside balcony on this historic morning. At 8:30 am the Head Keeper hoisted the Indian tricolor flag and then all together they saluted the flag and sang the National Anthem.
Since everyone wanted to be at their TV to watch the President of India hoisting the National Flag at the India Gate in New Delhi and watch the colorful Republic Day Parade to follow, without delay they climbed back down the steps from the balcony area. However, they all found it convenient to take their share of sweets distributed at the bottom of the tower.
Then at precisely ten minutes to nine came the first strike of the earth’s fury. The very earth they stood on started shaking violently and there was a loud roaring sound. Looking up at the lighthouse, instead of seeing the flag waving in the sky, they saw the lighthouse waving back and forth. As the shattered lantern room glass started falling from the top of the tower they immediately ran to open space for safety. After a few seconds, everything returned to normal and the lighthouse again stood straight, however it had major cracks throughout the structure.
After the initial shock, the keepers remembered their loved ones staying in the staff quarters. By the grace of the Almighty all the keepers’ family members were safe, but that was not the case of the residents of Mandvi itself and for that matter all of the Rann of Kutch area.
Thousands of people were buried under the debris of their own houses and the death toll in Kutch was calculated at 35,000.
Electricity and communication facilities were cut for weeks and the 60km long highway to the District Headquarters Bhuj was cut due to collapsed bridges and wide cracks in the roads. When the road connection was temporarily reinstated, government inspectors from the Regional Directorate at Jamnagar inspected the lighthouse and recommended the demolition of the tower because of its dangerous condition. These officials also brought with them the news of other losses to the Lighthouse Department of the devastating results of the earthquake that had registered 7.7 on the Richter scale.
Jodiya Lighthouse - destroyed having collapsed during the quake.
Mundra and Bhavnager old port lighthouses, both destroyed.
Jhonston Point Lighthouse - abandoned after quake.
Piroton, Chhachhi, Piram, Okha, Kachhigadh, Mandvi Breakwater, Navinal, Dwarka and Karubar Tapu Lighthouses all suffered damage and would require extensive repairs.
The Mandvi Lighthouse, damaged beyond repair, had to come down. On February 25, 2001, all equipment that could be salvaged was removed form the lantern room. Wire ropes were tied on top of the tower. The other end of the ropes was tied to a heavy earthmover. After clearing the area the signal was given to pull the once illustrious tower down. The bottom of the tower broke and while falling the tower struck on the edge of the bastion and broke into two pieces and collapsed with a thunderous bang.
A new 30 meter lighthouse tower will be constructed in the near future at a nearby site. The people of Rann of Kutch, who are trying to keep the memory of their loved ones, their houses and their lost property close to their hearts, may also keep a place for the Mandvi Lighthouse. Hopefully the new lighthouse will be a timeless memorial to the past and a testimony of hope of a resurrecting generation.
This story appeared in the
December 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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