Blog 5 - Nepal earthquake

تم النشر: 6 مايو 2015 11:50 CET

by Merlijn Stoffels/Netherlands Red Cross

Five days since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal and my first day here has officially begun. I will be riding along with a Red Cross team that surveys the damage and investigates exactly where help is needed. 

We leave for Sathi Ghar, a mountain village in Kaure province, about three hours from Kathmandu by car. The driver manoeuvres the car around giant cracks in the road. We drive past a temple that was one a UNESCO World Heritage site – it has been completely destroyed.

En route, we pass several hastily set-up tent camps where Red Cross teams are hard at work hooking up pumps so that people can have clean drinking water. The drive through the mountainous landscape is beautiful. We might almost forget that we’re in a disaster zone, but once we arrive in the village, that feeling quickly disappears.

It is as if a bomb has exploded in Sathi Ghar village. Of the 200 houses, there is hardly a single wall left standing.. We are the first foreigners to visit the village since the earthquake struck. The mayor walks toward us in tears. He shows the team all the damage and tells us that 11 villagers passed away.. There was no aid for the injured; after all, there is no hospital in Sathi Ghar. Many livestock have died because they’re usually kept in covered shelters, and the fields have been destroyed. The inhabitants of the village tell the team what they need, and the team leader jots it all down.

In the ravaged streets, I see people making frantic attempts to clean up the mess, but this is an impossible task. The pile of bricks and rubble is too high. Between the rocks and bricks, the contents of people’s homes are visible: beds, cabinets, and even a television with a crack in the screen. An elderly Nepalese woman with a red dot on her forehead indicating the holy third eye, sifts through the rubble looking for the photo of her deceased husband. I can’t help but think how awful it is that she has to go through this at her age. She wasn’t born yet when the last great earthquake struck in 1934.. She has heard all the stories though. She says that it was a blessing in disguise that this earthquake took place during the daytime, otherwise she says there would have been many more fatalities.

The mayor introduces us to a man who lost his wife and daughter during the earthquake. His house has also been reduced to rubble. I see the grief in his eyes and can’t summon the nerve to ask him to go back in his mind to that horrible event. Instead, he starts telling me his story without me asking. He wasn’t home during the earthquake, but afterwards, he ran home as fast as he could. From under a pile of bricks, he could hear his daughter crying out, ‘Papa, help me, Papa, help me.’  They do everything they can to try and save the girl, but they are too late. I hear several villagers, standing behind me and listening in, quietly sobbing. I also feel the tears coming, but force them back. The man seems too traumatised to even cry. During the conversation I smell the penetrating odour of rotting corpses, which I recognise from my time after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. I ask where it’s coming from. Apparently there are also a hundred dead chickens buried under the rubble. The man says that he has nothing left, only one daughter, who barely escaped the disaster with her life. She is a bit further away, lying under an awning with a huge bandage on her head. She also looks at me with hollow eyes.

I speak to a 14-year-old boy who is following me around in curiosity. The disaster also appears to have been fateful for his family. His three-year-old sister and aunt are buried under the rubble. He misses his sweet little sister, but has decided he has to be strong and not cry anymore, he tells me bravely. In spite of his courage, I can see that he is having a very hard time with it all. He has been sleeping out in the open since the earthquake, often in the rain. He says he is worried about his future, and barely has anything to eat or drink.

He can no longer go to school; that building has also collapsed. I leave this village with a lump in my throat. On the way back to Kathmandu, an aid worker from the local Red Cross tells me that they have almost run out of relief supplies in his district. He hopes that aid will come quickly from all over the world. After my visit to this village, I have no choice but to agree with him.