Monday, 27 April 2015

EARTHQUAKE, Nepal - 25th April 2015

Life is full of surprises!! I was sitting in my room reading at about midday on Saturday, when everything began to shake. An earthquake!

We had a few small tremors recently, but this was totally different. This time the whole building was shaking vigorously and I could hear crashes as things fell. I rushed down the stairs - my flat is on the third floor - reached the metal gate four flights of stairs down, and realised I needed my key to unlock it and get out. The key was back upstairs! Seconds later I had fetched it, unlocked the gate and was out in the back garden climbing the terraces to get away from the buildings.  Amazing how fast you can travel when your life may depend on it.  All my neighbours had streamed out of their houses and everyone was out on the street or on the hillside. Many were calling and shouting, children crying too, loud creaking and banging coming from the nearby buildings.  I stood on the hillside experiencing the shaking, waiting for it to stop and realised how terrified I felt. My heart was thumping hard in my chest, a product of all the adrenalin being pumped around my body.

Looking at the houses below, we could see the glass in windows vibrating, and one window popped out with a crash.  Time was passing slowly - the earthquake seemed to last a long time, but in reality it was less than two minutes from start to finish.
Once the shaking stopped, many people were checking on each other, was everyone all right? Nobody seemed hurt although all were very shaken. There was no noticeable damage to the buildings around us either, except for a few broken windows.
One knowledgeable man was telling everyone they must stay outside "there will be an aftershock soon!" He said. Within 30 minutes the first aftershock came, not as long or as violent as the first quake, but equally scary, despite the fact that we were all waiting for it.

The man, who lives in the top flat over the road from mine, had left his elderly parents inside, too old to rush down. He was trying to phone them, but of course, the communications were down. He told me that he was 49 and had never experienced anything as bad as this before, that made me realised this was a serious quake! We had been warned during our initial training that Nepal was due for a big earthquake, the last was in 1934, when Kathmandu had been very badly damaged, but you never expect it to happen to you.
After a while I noticed someone had a phone connection, and hurriedly texted my daughter in Britain to say I was all right which was fortunate because we then lost all contact for several hours. In the meantime she was able to inform everyone at home that I was safe.

Many Besisahar people preferred to remain outside for most of the day, which was sensible given the frequent aftershocks we were experiencing. Everywhere there were groups of people, sitting on steps or waste ground, waiting - too frightened to return into their homes.  After the first bigger aftershock fortunately the others that day were small. Even once heavy rain began falling most people stayed undercover but close to exits so they could get out quickly. No one was taking the risk of being caught in a falling building.
People in the street - safer than indoors with the risk of
further aftershocks.
Jude, my VSO colleague and I decided to stay together, for company and to share news etc. We were concerned about the abundance of electricity wires over the streets, which would be dangerous should they fall, so collected some things including our emergency bags, which VSO had instructed us to keep ready at all times, and made for the local hotel which has grassy gardens and open space. We felt safer in its single storey buildings and dry when the rain came, and as a bonus the hotel had Internet connection, so we could keep in contact with what was happening in the rest of the region. Gradually news filtered through with the details of the quake - some in texts from friends and family in the UK, where it was headlines on the BBC early morning news. Kathmandu seemed to be very badly hit, and reports of deaths and photos of buildings collapsing emphasised the gravity of the earthquake. 7.9 on the Richter scale, which was big! Someone from VSO phoned to check we were safe and unhurt. Fortunately she was able to report that all VSO Nepal staff and volunteers are safe and well.

As darkness fell we saw television reports of the rescue of people from collapsed buildings in Kathmandu, the wreckage of historic buildings and temples that I had visited with my family ten days ago, and the huge cracks in the roads. What devastation! How lucky we were that Besisahar, although closer to the epicentre of the earthquake than Kathmandu, had not suffered nearly so badly.

We were still experiencing aftershocks as we ate supper at the hotel, and later decided that it would be a good place to sleep, so we could get out quickly if another quake happened. We had been joined by two work colleagues who also lived in upstairs flats and felt unsafe.  After collecting blankets from Jude's flat we bedded down, fully clothed, on the floor of the meeting room. Many Nepalis had a similar idea and the covered terraces outside were a mass of sleeping families.

During the night there were aftershocks at around 11pm, 2.30am and 5am; each time we quickly got up and left the building. After the last we decided there was no point in trying to sleep further, as everyone around us was talking and moving around. We all checked our phones and emails for further news, and started the new day.

Another big aftershock came on Sunday morning, just more than 24 hours after the first, at around 12.30. In bare feet I rushed out of the office, down the stairs and ran for the vegetable terrace over the road, away from the possibility of falling masonry. 6.7 on the Richter scale this time and lasting for about a minute.  After that everyone in the town seemed to have given up the idea of work, all shops had their shutters down and people were sitting in relatively open spaces, where they felt safer, in family groups on mats under tent-like tarpaulins for shade. Many slept there overnight too, despite more heavy rain.
Tarpaulin shelter - overnight accommodation for at least 30 people.
We VSO volunteers have offered our services in humanitarian aid if needed, but only time will tell if we can be of any use.  It is difficult to predict how long it will take for Nepal to get back to normal.  This is a huge tragedy for such a poor nation, already struggling to bring itself into the twenty-first century, and develop an infrastructure in such a difficult terrain.  It will be several days before the final death toll can be reported, especially from remote communities in the hills. Foreign aid has been promised by many countries, and will be of great help.
If you can afford to, please donate to a relief fund to help the victims of this calamity.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Bathtime in Sauraha

Everyone seemed to be making for the river. From paths and side lanes they trouped.  The village of Sauraha seemed filled with excitement  What was happening? Why the hurry of these huge animals towards the river?

Time for a bath, jumbo style!
I think I'll sit down in the water.

Nothing beats communal bathing.

Just a little sideways roll.

I do like to be scrubbed behind the ears.

If I time it right I should be able to shower my keeper!

Got him that time!
That's better, now I'm fresh and cool.