The worse earthquake in years

Published: 5 May 2015 21:12 CET

Blog 1

Spokesman Merlijn Stoffels is in Nepal to report on the effects of the recent earthquake there. When he has the time (and a reliable Internet connection), he sends us a blog post.

Sunday 26 April

The worse earthquake in years

Nepal was shaken to its foundations today by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. It was the largest quake the country experienced in the last 81 years. The first photos and video footage show how badly Nepal has been damaged by the sheer force of the earthquake. Buildings and houses have been completely demolished. The bodies of those who didn’t survive the earthquake are still visible between the rubbles, only signs that houses once stood here. People are running around in panic, their faces barely recognisable from the dust. On the photos, I see Red Cross aid workers helping to search for survivors, providing assistance to the people emerging, alive, from the rubble. Nearly 1,000 Nepalese didn’t survive the disaster, over 2,000 people are injured, and millions are affected. This is the sad situation we have been able to witness, a couple hours after the disaster; the authorities expect the death toll to rise even higher as time goes. Although the Red Cross started its rescue operations immediately, the cities and villages near the epicentre are difficult to reach. Roads have been wiped out, blocked by land slides and the communication system is down.

Pleas for international aid

The country has declared a state of emergency and is asking for international aid. The earthquake has also claimed lives in the neighbouring country of India and the Chinese province of Tibet. This was reason enough for the Netherlands Red Cross to start a fundraising campaign to support the affected people. In the meantime, journalists were hungry for more information about the disaster and the assistance arriving in dribs and drabs. Not only are the Dutch journalists desperately trying to get information, but members of the international press are also scrambling for news. It is impossible for the Nepalese Red Cross to satisfy this demand; they are far too busy offering aid. To support them, the Netherlands Red Cross decided to send a communication specialist to the affected area to help answering this deluge of questions, and to brief the Dutch and international press. This is why I am flying to the capital city of Kathmandu now, barely 12 hours after the earthquake hit. It’s still uncertain at this point whether or not the plane will be able to land; the airport has apparently sustained a great deal of damage from the quake. I will just have to wait and see.

Hasty departure

I have never had to pack my bags this quickly before. Once the decision was made for me to go, I only had four hours before the departure time. I was attending a course at the time, not far from my home. I hurried home and once there, I got ready within an hour, thanks to the assistance from the home front. While I wolf down a hot meal, I realise that many people in Nepal aren’t able to enjoy the same luxury today. I don’t have much time to stop and think about it; I have to pack my things. This is not my first trip for the Red Cross to a disaster area or conflict zone. I arrived in the Philippines 24 hours after the devastating typhoon Haiyan. I also travelled to Ethiopia during the food crisis. I have been to countries plagued by armed conflict, such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, South Sudan and Colombia. An earthquake, however, is a whole new type of disaster for me. Will this be different from what I have seen so far? I also wonder what I should bring with me for a situation like this.

What do you take on a trip to a disaster area?

I call my colleague, Frido Herinckx, emergency aid coordinator for the Netherlands Red Cross. These types of trips are easy for him, and he is quick with the tips. ‘Do you have a first aid kit? Don’t forget a sleeping bag and water purification tablets. Oh, and don’t forget to take cash with you. It’s usually impossible to use your debit card in these situations.’ We discuss if I should also bring a tent with me. I was really glad I had one with me in the Philippines. Without one, I would have had to sleep outside, in the rain, like the victims of the typhoon. Frido doesn’t think a tent will be necessary in Nepal. I decide to take his advice and chance it. After all, I also have to take a camera, video camera and tripod with me, and the baggage space is not unlimited. On the way to Schiphol airport, I tell my family about my departure. Once at the airport, I quickly buy some dollars and a Lonely Planet for Nepal for the necessary background information on the country. I then rush to the departure area.

[The airplane is ready to take off.​]
Indirect help

I am one of the last passengers to arrive at the gate. The flight attendant who checks my ticket says, smiling, ‘So you’re the one who just booked his ticket a couple of hours ago.’ They had obviously been discussing this amongst themselves. ‘Are you going to Nepal to help?’ she asks. I tell her that I’m not going to be offering direct aid, but I will be helping out in an indirect way. Media attention helps to bring the disaster closer even though it is unfolding thousands of kilometres away. Hopefully this will convince more Dutch people to help the Nepalese. They really need this help since many of them lost everything in one fell swoop. It is already night-time in Nepal. I decide to try to sleep to adjust to the new time zone. An uneasy feeling comes to me as I think about the terrible things I am about to see. I try to set that feeling aside for now. It’s important for me to sleep so I can be fit enough to cope with the intense weeks to come.