Nepal's second earthquake this week on 12th May took many people by surprise. We had not had an aftershock for several days so everyone was starting to relax, thinking the worst was over.
With emergency funding to support us, I am now involved in assessing the needs of schools is 8 VDCs (Village Development Committees) in the worst hit areas of Lamjung District, mostly to the south and near the border with Gorkha. I was out in the hills with Anju, a Nepali colleague from Global Action Nepal, visiting all the schools in Bharte, one VDC, to photograph and assess the damage to each one, so that those that were badly damaged and could no longer hold classes should have early relief and lessons could resume.
|Cracks to roof supports|
During the past two days we had visited five schools, whose damage was not too severe, mostly cracks in walls caused by small shifts in the ground, or surface plaster falling off in large chunks. However we had seen bigger cracks in some walls and one classroom where the gable wall was looking very unstable, having moved about 4 centimetres outward and a substantial part of it fallen in. I advised the headteacher that the room should not be used.
We were walking up a steep rough track, cut into the hillside on the way to the school. I did not notice the earth shaking to start with, as I was contemplating what we had seen so far, and concentrating on walking uphill fast to reach the next school. To me it didn't feel that bad - more like another of the milder shocks we have been having regularly since 25th April. (I believe there have been around 100 aftershocks – the latest at 5.5 was this morning whilst I was eating breakfast!)
A man from a house beside the track came rushing out, telling us about the new earthquake and to be careful. We then met students in uniform hurrying home from school along the path. They had been sent home because of the quake. When we reached the school five minutes later the students had all gone and the teachers were locking up ready to leave. They all looked shocked and unsure what to do. Many were phoning their families to check their safety.
|The surrounding wall for the school had collapsed in places.|
One teacher bravely took me quickly to see the damaged in classrooms and library. I took photos and filled in the report form once back outside again and away from the building. I also inspected the toilets, and observed that the girls toilet wall was badly cracked. I took more photographs to add to our report. A second shock made us rush into the open space between the school buildings for safety. I certainly felt that one!
|Cracked toilet wall|
When I spoke to the assistant principal, I told him the toilets were not safe for the girls to use. This will be a big problem as girls will not be prepared to use the boys toilet, so many will not attend school until this is repaired or rebuilt. As the school is high on a ridge, cement for rebuilding will need to be carried there. During our three days in this area we saw several trains of mules loaded with bags of cement, two per mule, making their way uphill.
Everyone from the village was sitting outside afraid to go back into their houses. Many stayed there for much of the afternoon.
|People sheltering by the temple.|
We had stayed the night before at the house of a kind female teachers from the secondary school, and had been treated like honoured guests. The house was built on the hillside in the traditional style using stone set with mud as cement. These are the houses which have suffered so much damage in the earthquake as they are not strong. A neighbouring house had collapsed during the first quake, and everyone was busy helping with the rebuilding. I noticed they were now using concrete pillars with iron reinforcement this time, to give the new house strength.
|Building a new stronger house|
For safety that night we slept in the nearby health post building, along with another family, all of us on the floor. This new building is a much stronger structure than the traditional stone and mud houses of the village. In the middle of the night came another tremor. Everybody scrambled to get up but luckily the shaking quickly stopped and we returned to bed.
Fortunately, damage to most schools we have seen has not been too severe. However damage to the classrooms walls at one primary school meant that lessons were being taught outside, which will not be an option once the monsoon arrives. We are hoping to get some emergency funding for this school to provide a ‘Temporary Learning Space’ so students can at least be taught undercover.
The kindness of the people I have met has been a special feature of my travels this week. Everywhere we went we received smiles and greetings. Complete strangers have given us water, tea, snacks, fruit and even a daal bhat meal. Village people have left their work to lead us through the forest paths or villages to the schools we were searching. Thank you to everyone who has helped us at this difficult time in such a friendly way.