Earthquake wounded face gruelling journeys on foot to find treatment

Published: 2 May 2015 19:03 CET

By Minna Passi, Finnish Red Cross

A young man stands beside a collapsed house and watches as three men are digging in the ruins.

“I lost my wife and daughter and I’m homeless,” Bala Ram Shrestha says.

Shrestha lives in the town of Melamchi which was severely affected by the earthquake. Thousands of people lost their loved ones and homes. The centre is completely devastated, but the community seems more concerned about the plight of other people: “It is so much worse in the villages.”

The town is surrounded by villages that have no road access and according to the local Red Cross branch, many of the settlements are completely destroyed. The tough terrain means Red Cross volunteers have resorted to carrying casualties on foot to the medical centre.

On Thursday afternoon the clinic is so packed that many of the patients are waiting outside.  The clinic has only two doctors. Doctor Roshni Agrawal says the clinic has been operating non-stop since the earthquake, treating more than 2,000 patients in five days. The injured are still arriving from the villages with wounds left untreated for days, meaning treatment is more difficult and infection common.

Kesab Kahdka rests under a blanket outside the clinic. He was injured when a boulder fell onto his leg and was treated by a Japanese Red Cross Society medical team who arrived on Thursday with vital supplies and set up a health care unit to support the local doctors and nurses.

There is ongoing concern for isolated communities in other areas too. The town of Sangachok is flattened. According to locals, there were 2,100 houses but 90 per cent of them are gone. The earthquake killed 112 people in the area and on Thursday, a Turkish rescue team was still trying to retrieve two bodies from a collapsed house.

Most people are spending their nights sleeping outside with no shelter at all. Safe drinking water has run out. 

Further north, the city of Chautara is also badly damaged. The hospital building is no longer safe so doctors are operating in tents on a muddy football field. On the other side of the town, rescue helicopters organised by the local authorities and the army are trying to reach the remote villages. Weather conditions have been hampering rescue efforts because it is too dangerous to fly between the mountains in heavy rain. Many injured people have had to wait for days. Some are still waiting.

Some desperate survivors have tried to walk to find help. On Wednesday, villagers carried a badly injured man to the medical tents.  It’s a seven-hour journey in normal conditions – across ruins and carrying a patient, even longer. On Thursday doctors in Chautara were preparing to send the patient to a hospital in Kathmandu with a Red Cross ambulance.  His case is far from unique – locals say many more wounded are being carried from remote villages and will arrive to find a makeshift medical clinic struggling to cope.

In response to the needs in Chautara, the Norwegian Red Cross has dispatched its fully equipped rapid deployment hospital which will be set up on a football field close to the town’s damaged hospital.  The medical team arrived on Saturday, but the trucks carrying their equipment were delayed due to a fresh landslide blocking the road. Despite this, they expect to be treating their first patients tomorrow.