IFRC


Blog 3 - Nepal earthquake: 50 hours of travel frustration, but relief and aid are the priorities

Published: 5 May 2015 14:00 CET

by Merlijn Stoffels

Radio presenter Bert van Slooten is asking me about the latest developments in the affected area. I tell him that about 70 per cent of the residents of the capital, Kathmandu, had to sleep out in the open last night, in the cold and rain. In most of the cases, this was because their homes had become inhabitable, but also because many were afraid to go back into their houses. This is understandable as 68 aftershocks have followed the major earthquake.

Eventually, I look around me, and suddenly realise I am alone. I see the bus driving away. I’m really nervous now, but I try not to let this be heard in my voice. I continue the interview, saying that the humanitarian situation in the cities and villages closer to the epicentre is a major cause for concern for the Red Cross. The access to remote, affected areas is poor and is a hindrance to the rescue operations and getting aid where it is needed.

Still speaking, I walk toward the flight attendant, gesturing that I was supposed to be on the bus. He nods reassuringly, and says that he will arrange transport for me. Feeling more confident now, I conclude the interview and get in the car that has been arranged in the meantime just for me. Now that’s what I call service.

I wonder if we’ll be able to land in Kathmandu this time; it will be a nerve-wracking experience once again. As we fly over the airport, the pilot announces that we are not able to land. There are nine other planes ahead of us in the queue to land, and the airport is already packed full of aircraft, even on the runway he says. We have enough fuel to circle above the airport for another hour. After an hour and a half, there are still two planes in the queue ahead of us.

Then we get the news we all feared.

We will have to fuel up at another airport, and then fly back to Abu Dhabi, again. We land at Lucknow in India. They might want to consider renaming it ‘Nolucknow’. I have been sitting on an airplane for days now, and feel helpless. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Later, I hear that the planes that were able to land today had relief supplies and teams on board. I certainly don’t mind standing back and giving priority to this type of life-saving aid. It is now midnight as we land in Abu Dhabi. After a 50-hour journey, we still haven’t reached our destination. The airline is hopeful that we will have better luck tomorrow. I’ll believe it when I see it.

In the meantime, more and more news has been reaching us from the disaster area. We hear that the streets of Kathmandu are filled with people looking for survivors. The Red Cross aid workers have been working non-stop. Today they managed to finally reach the villages to the north of Kathmandu, the area where the epicentre of Saturday’s earthquake was located. Some 70 per cent of the villages in this area appear to have been destroyed, and there are many deaths and injuries.

Survivors are in desperate need of food, water and shelter. Power failures and intermittent communication connections do not make the situation any easier. One striking detail is that several mountain climbers who were trapped at high altitudes on Mount Everest after the earthquake in Nepal have now been evacuated by helicopter.

 

In the meantime, the official number of people who have sustained injuries has risen to 6,500, and the fatalities are known to include three Red Cross aid workers.

The government expects these numbers to continue to increase as it becomes possible to reach more and more areas in the coming days.

The United Nations has issued a warning that diseases that typically strike after an earthquake may emerge and spread rapidly. The UN’s primary concerns involve diarrhoea and the measles, the latter of which is due to a shortage of available vaccines in Nepal. UNICEF estimates that nearly one million children in the disaster zone are in urgent need of help.




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