60 days until our departure from Kathmandu. An earthquake was nowhere on my schedule – nor anyone else’s. But it came and changed everything – some of it forever. There was so much saturation coverage on the news, and now it slowly becoming a secondary story…but the humanitarian recovery effort here is only just starting. We are still recovering. We are ok. We’ve caught up on sleep and the are over at least the first waves of shock and disbelief. Amazingly everyone at work is ok too, many families and homes —-not so much. I was up a high A-frame ladder when it struck. The ladder shook but didn’t fall, but I couldn’t get off it either. I was surrounded by 7ft tall very high library book cases which carpenters had just put together for a new library I’m opening. The metal cases are so heavy it takes 6 guys to move them and they were swaying next to me. Eventually, I managed to get down, but by now I was the last one out and the floor was rocking so hard I couldn’t walk. So I crawled out.
Once I got out the building, everything was still shaking and all I could do was run uphill, across the shaking car park to the metal bars of the fence. We held on tight until the shaking stopped and then ran down the to the Bagmati River away from buildings. There was already about 100 stunned and frightened people down there, hopelessly trying to take in what just happened. Around me were tall buildings with giant, scary cracks in them, and it started to sink in just how badly the earthquake had hit. Suraj, the project engineer, had a car and said he would drive me home. So we started driving through groups of stunned people and piles of bricks from fallen walls. Once we got on to the main roads, we started to see fallen buildings, fallen ancient temples and wide cracks in the road. Some roadways were blocked and we had to drive the long way around, all the time with the hand of the horn. Cell phone service was down but I could get Robert with texts. I kept texting, telling him where I was at various landmarks, in case something happened. About half way home the ground started shaking and Suraj yelled “get out the car” and we just stopped in the middle of the road and ran. This was the second 6.something tremor and I looked around for something to dive under, but in Kathmandu there’s nothing safe. We stood in a random car park, as far away as we could from the surrounding buildings, and watched electric cables and a tall glass building sway opposite. It was then that I was the most terrified. Dying seemed like a real possibility.
When it stopped and we calmed down, we continued driving. When the next tremor came we were near a park, and stopped the car and ran into the open area. This was the safest spot we had found and stayed there, along with hundreds of other people. Its only about 10 minutes walk from home, but the tremors kept on coming and the thought of walking between cracked buildings and swaying electric poles made it too frightening to move. I sat in the park for about four hours with support from families I knew. No water, no toilets. We just sat there and all froze every time the ground rumbled—which was frighteningly often. The aftershocks just kept coming, again and again. Eventually, the need to be home outweighed the fear of the next quake, so I walked home. My area of town had less damage, as most of the buildings are newer and better built. Our house was fine, except for some buckling of the cement driveway and some cracked exterior pillars. We lost a few personal possessions like glass dishes, photos frames and plants, which all made a huge mess but, in the big picture, they were nothing. Robert had been home alone for all it. The house had rocked and lurched badly, to the point that he thought it was sliding down a sink hole. Getting back into the house with the two-way radio and supplies was a totally different world.
That evening we headed to the Embassy to sleep on Robert’s office floor because of the danger of afterquakes. The Embassy is built to very high earthquake specifications, so even though it rocked badly with each after tremor, I felt so much safer. We spent a second night there and have been taking in American citizens, Peace Corps volunteers and others who are camped outside in the Embassy grounds (if they have tents) or sleeping on the cafeteria floor, plus lots of kids, babies and dogs. We were lucky enough to be able to go home to eat and shower, and are now back home to stay.
Just basic humanitarian relief will take weeks. Although Kathmandu has taken a bad hit, there are more standing/undamaged buildings than expected and in some areas of town its not so noticeable. The city is slowly coming back to a very slow version of normal. Outside Kathmandu it is a very different story, and the villages are full of simple brick houses which certainly have collapsed, so the full story of the death toll will take a long time to compile. We are all just so exhausted. Its going to be a very different ,very weird last 60 days.