1885 Earthquake

Kashmir owes a lot to the British doctor duo, the Neve Brothers, the missionaries who were running the Mission Hospital. Here is the first-hand account of Dr Arthur Neve (FRCS), the one who is eternally resting in Srinagar’s Christian missionary. He was part of the post-earthquake management in north Kashmir and wrote this piece on July 20th, 1885 

Dr Arthur Neve, Kashmir’s most popular doctor who died of the Spanish Flu in 1919 while being infected in France. He is buried in Sheikhbagh Srinagar.

The shocks began on the night of May 29th, the most severe one being the first. Most people were thus aroused from their sleep by the fearful earth convulsions. The greatest damage did not necessarily occur where there was most loss of life. This depended on the way in which the houses were constructed.

 Some mountain villages consisted of flat-roofed houses covered with an immense thickness of earth, with but a single door of exit from the large single room in which cattle and human beings were crowded together. In such scarcely a tithe escaped. The population was almost annihilated. But the ordinary Kashmiri villages, built of light wooden framework, two-storeyed, did not suffer so severely. In either case, however, the proportion of those killed outright to those wounded was very great.

The number killed is estimated at about 3200. The wounded will scarcely have exceeded 300.

 Dr Arthur Neve with patients in some Kashmir village early twentieth century

At Srinagar, the capital, a number of houses fell, including both infantry and cavalry barracks. Eighty-seven men were killed, most of these being buried in the ruins; four hours after the accident some were dug out still alive. Few of the bodies showed much external sign of injury. The wounded included very few lacerations or fractures, but many of injury from crushing or pressure. They were attended to by the staffs of the Government and mission hospitals, and removed to the former under the care of Surgeon, A Leahy (FRCS).

Towards the outlet of the valley, the damage was greater. Within a radius of ten miles from Baramulla 2000 were killed. Temporary hospitals were erected at Soper and Baramulla, the latter under the care of Dr HD M’Culloch and myself. At the hospital, 140 cases were registered, and many more came under our notice when scouring the country. The following is a brief digest:

There were 40 cases of fracture, 31 of which were simple; of these, 10 were of the clavicle, femur 7, spine 4, scapula, pelvis, and other bones 1 each.

Of the compound fractures, 4 were of the tibia, 2 of the radius, thigh 1. All these were set with plaster-of-Paris. None were seen till the fourth day, and many not till the fifteenth day after the accident. A considerable quantity of callus had been formed in some, and three fractures of the clavicle were thus healed without any bandaging. In no case did un-united fracture result; those in which it seemed most probable at the time had been tightly bandaged at the seat of fracture by the natives.

Death followed the pelvic fracture, the bladder being also ruptured; also two of the spine fractures. Two other cases in which spinal fracture had been diagnosed remained paralysed while under observation. The compound fractures all did well except two, in both of which amputation was refused by the patient or her friends. These were very severe compound comminuted fractures of the thigh and the leg bones. Both are still in a critical state, but recovery is hoped for. Dislocations included 4 of the hip (two dorsal.. two sciatic), all of which were reduced by manipulation; 2 of the shoulder, wrist 1, clavicle (sternal end) 1, acromial end 1.

Contusions or prolonged pressure on nerves led to local paralysis of hand or leg in 5 cases, of the spine to paraplegia in 4 cases. All these did well, but the final result is not known in all. External urethrotomy was performed in 2 cases, and cystotomy in 1, for rupture of the urethra. One punctured wound penetrated the bladder as in the operation of perineal lithotomy. Two cases of gangrene were brought in: one died just after arrival; the other was removed, to avoid amputation. Two cases of tetanus with lacerated gangrenous wounds were brought to us. Amputation of the hand was at once performed in one, but the patient died of lockjaw within eighteen hours.

In the other, as the man was very weak, we had recourse to section of the sciatic nerve. His symptoms were all relieved, but he gradually sank four days after. The proportion of contusions to lacerated wounds was very large. All these recovered. The treatment was, as far as possible, by Listerism, and in open lean-to sheds; there was no appearance of any erysipelatous inflammation; doubtless, the simple diet of the patients favours rapid recovery.

Altogether at Baramulla Hospital seven patients died, as above noted; this was out of a total number of over 100 with severe wounds or fractures, many of which were complicated or had been quite neglected until brought in by our clerical colleagues, by coercion if needed, from remote villages. It does not speak well for native surgery that after the first fortnight no wounded could be found in the villages, as all the severely wounded had died. Filth and starvation must share the blame, for often the patient is only allowed sherbet to drink and nothing to eat.

Now, two months since the earthquake occurred, shocks are still felt, but they are unattended by any loss of life, as the population have abandoned their houses.

(This write-up was published by the reputed medical journal The Lancet on September 5, 1885, under the headline – The Late Earthquake in Kashmir)

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