Nepal

EXPERIENCING a Earthquake in Gorkha

AUGUST 10, 2015

During the night I was woken by my bed moving. I was still sleepy and wasn't sure what was happening. The shaking movement was followed by a lot of screaming and crying. It took me a few minutes to realize what was happening. An earthquake was striking and it was a strong one because when I tried to out of bed I had difficulty getting up. The room was dark, very dark and I couldn't find my light or telephone. I had forgotten forgot where I put them before I went to bed not thinking that in Nepal these earthquakes can happen suddenly, including at night. I was in a strange hotel room. Where was the light switch? I searched in the dark while the movements continued with people screaming and crying louder and louder. I heard some people screaming to me: " go outside, this is earthquake, please go fast ".

I thought about the situation. I was in a concrete building with multiple floors. Would this be strong enough...or perhaps not. I had seen lots of these concrete buildings destroyed by the earlier 6.7 and 6.4 earthquake. Would this one be so strong that the building could collapse? I went to the doorway and wanted to run out but the door was locked from inside. Damn where was this lock,in the top or bottom? I found it and wanted to run outside but I realized something was missing from my feet and grabbed my flip flops. Then I decided quickly to grab my computer, telephone and wallet. I walked to the stairs and went down. I realized that the shaking had stopped. Would it be over now? Or would it return again and perhaps even stronger? Should I quickly take more of my positions like my camera, which I call "my baby" to many people? But what if I went back and the earthquake came back even stronger. I had again a long way to go to get outside of this building. I decided to keep moving to the outside of the building. On my way there were more people moving out. From some faces you could read that they were terrified, especially the women. Most of the men were asking me if I realized that this was an earthquake, making jokes to me and laughing. Probably they were as afraid as the women and children but they were too macho to show this to others.

When I got outside there were about 200 people who had come out all of all the houses and little apartments. Most of them were talking about what happened. Most wanted to go back to sleep but others said that it was not safe to return to the building. After 30 minutes the situation calmed down and people started going back inside. They told me to go sleep again but my mind was quite confused and I could still feel a lot of adrenaline in my body. Lying back in bed I was thinking that if there was a next time I should find a safe place more quickly. Still there was a lot of sound around me in the building and the street. I rehearsed what to do if they earthquake came back. Slowly the sound faded and this also calmed me down and I fell asleep again, luckily not to wake up from another earthquake.

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To Gorkha and a visit to Baluwa, close to the epicentre of the earthquake

The road from Gorkha to Baluwa was in a terrible condition because of the strong monsoonal rain.

The road from Gorkha to Baluwa was in a terrible condition because of the strong monsoonal rain.

Kathmandu to Gorkha

I left Kathmandu for Gorkha in the morning. I had been told the bus would go straight to Gorkha but as is often the case in Nepal, the information was incorrect and I had to change buses in a little town to get to Gorkha. It only took me 5 minutes to find my next bus so there was no time to see what town I was in. The bus was jam packed – it would have been physically impossible to squeeze another passenger in. The ticket seller quickly offered me a seat as he saw I was about to change my mind and take another bus. I did have a seat but not much space! Two people were leaning on me and I had two pigeons in a homemade cage on my lap. Later a lady with a baby got on the bus and was standing very close to me. When the baby saw me it started crying loudly. This often happens when a baby sees a strange looking white face. 

The idea of moving these big boulders by hand soon faded after we took a closer look. We had to wait for an excavator.

The idea of moving these big boulders by hand soon faded after we took a closer look. We had to wait for an excavator.

Posing on the landslide that blocked the road.

Posing on the landslide that blocked the road.

From Gorkha to Baluwa

Unfortunately my day started with a bit of bad luck. I had been told that the bus would leave at 7:00 but arriving at the station I found the bus had left 20 minutes earlier so I took the next one at 9:30. Traveling in Nepal requires a lot of patience and flexibility because there are no real timetables and things can change suddenly, with little warning. In the afternoon, just after a tea stop, the bus came to a halt. Looking through the front window I immediately saw why…

We could not continue because there was a big landslide in front of us. I took my camera and got out to take a closer look. There were huge boulders, some measuring 2 square metre covering the road and part of the road was missing - one third of it had broken off and slid all the way down the hillside into the river. That’s why the word ‘landslide’ is so apt:  A part of the hillside just breaks away and slides down taking everything in its path with it. During the monsoon landslides happen all the time. The dirt roads and walking trails are very unpredictable at this time of the year. The earthquakes in April damaged many of the hillsides so this year the situation is doubly dangerous.  It can take up to 20 men to remove the debris after a landslide and rebuild the road or walking trails.

Boys exploring the landslide while other passengers get off the bus. They were realizing that they would have to walk all the way to Baluwa - 3 hours away by foot!

Boys exploring the landslide while other passengers get off the bus. They were realizing that they would have to walk all the way to Baluwa - 3 hours away by foot!

It was heartbreaking to see the remains of the old traditional houses when I arrived in Baluwa. The temporary dwellings built of shining tin and orange and blue plastic sheeting made an ugly sight…But what else could they do? These materials are easy to transport into the mountains by bus and tractor. 

After walking for two hours in 30 degree heat the bus found its way accross the landslide. 

After walking for two hours in 30 degree heat the bus found its way accross the landslide. 

When I arrived in Baluwa I searched for a place to sleep amongst all these tin and plastic shelters. It wasn’t easy. I asked around but either I got starred at or the people told me a long story in Nepali which I couldn't understand. I have learned to speak the most common words and understand the most commonly asked questions but this was not enough to communicate with these people, who spoke with a different dialect. Eventually I found some girls who were dressed less traditionally and was lucky that one of them spoke a few words of English. She took me to a house where I could stay. Enjoying a delicious milk tea I started writing this story.

Only the wooden frame of this house is left. This explains why most people now are trying to construct temporary houses made from wood. 

Only the wooden frame of this house is left. This explains why most people now are trying to construct temporary houses made from wood. 

As I was staying in the main street I could watch the children returning home after school. They were all dressed nicely in uniforms, some looking away shyly and others looking at me and finally giving a big smile.

Abandoned ruins on the way to Baluwa.

Abandoned ruins on the way to Baluwa.

Baluwa

Father trying to repair the small bicycle that obviously wasn't strong enough to handle the rough, stony roads.

Father trying to repair the small bicycle that obviously wasn't strong enough to handle the rough, stony roads.

 

While exploring the village I found the UNICEF Health Post. An English speaking woman explained the UNICEF and Oxfam programmes to me. UNICEF has been helping in general with medical support while Oxfam has provided food, water supplies and the material to build temporary shelters. She offered me to show me around the village.

Old bazaar (market) in Baluwa. Before the earthquake this was the heart of the village, full of market stalls and shops.

Old bazaar (market) in Baluwa. Before the earthquake this was the heart of the village, full of market stalls and shops.

The wooden ladder is the only thing left of this side of the house.

The wooden ladder is the only thing left of this side of the house.

 

We walked through the old bazaar. Here no house had been spared and all of them had been left uninhabitable. Some houses had just a few walls, a doorway or a stairway left. 

Child taking water from a tap in what was the main street of the village.

Child taking water from a tap in what was the main street of the village.

 

 

 

She guided me further and showed me where her family’s house had stood. Nothing was left apart from 3 steps at the front of the house. Amongst the rubble I could see the remains of their furniture and possessions.

 

She explained when the earthquake struck there was no time to take anything from the house. They had escaped as the walls were moving and starting to fall. Afterwards they realized that they had not only lost their homes but also all their belongings and more importantly their food, which had been stored inside. 

Pranjali Gurung in front of the steps to her family’s house. Now weeds have started to grow amongst the ruins.

Pranjali Gurung in front of the steps to her family’s house. Now weeds have started to grow amongst the ruins.

Posing in front of the ruins of her family’s house.

Posing in front of the ruins of her family’s house.

Gas cooking stove destroyed by the earthquake. Now they are back to cooking on their unhealthy smoky fires.

Gas cooking stove destroyed by the earthquake. Now they are back to cooking on their unhealthy smoky fires.

Above the sound of stones and wood collapsing they heard the sound of people crying. Sadly 4 people in Baluwa were killed in the earthquake.

We climbed up the 3 remaining steps and looked around. Carrying her two year old daughter on her hip she looked out sadly over the devastation that covered the village she had called her home.

Ladies searching for any remaining possessions and getting water from the destroyed bazaar (market) in Baluwa.

Ladies searching for any remaining possessions and getting water from the destroyed bazaar (market) in Baluwa.

Water tap in the destroyed bazaar (market).

Water tap in the destroyed bazaar (market).

Oxfam provided support to earthquake victims from this tent. When I visited there was no staff anymore but the post remains in case of future earthquakes. 

Oxfam provided support to earthquake victims from this tent. When I visited there was no staff anymore but the post remains in case of future earthquakes. 

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