60 days: Earthquake

S0054143 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.

34 thoughts on “60 days: Earthquake

  1. I’ve been thinking and wondering about you ever since those first days. I was so glad when I heard you were safe early on, but hearing the whole first-hand account is unreal. So glad you and your friends and neighbors are OK; so many of us Nepal lovers are worried about the country and its recovery. Keep us posted as you finish out your time there.


    • Thanks for your thoughts. Nepal had huge problems before this quake. It so desperately needs the aid to go to the people that need it, but the first-hand accounts I am hearing make me afraid.

      I was enjoying some revisits to the different heritage sites in and around the city as I realised that I may not be able to come back to many of them. Hence the little videos. Now, I can’t believe that so much of them have gone. I wanted to go to Bhaktapur the weekend before the quake but was too busy. Now much of it is rubble. We’re all still trying to process it.


  2. Your story made me shiver but so glad you are safe! My God-daughter was on a climb near Everest, and is ok, but a British friend of my daughter’s is still missing. So traumatic, so sad. I look forward to seeing you in Spetses this summer.


  3. OH MY GOD!! What a terrifying experience, I can’t even begin to imagine! I’m so glad you are OK! Thank you for this vivid account of your experience. Sending love to both of you and to the people of Kathmandu.


  4. I’ve been following your blog for a bit, but I don’t think we’ve ever exchanged comments before – good to know your loved ones and you’ve come out safely from this very scary experience. Reading your first hand experience makes one realize how unpredictable life is. Wishing you safe times ahead.


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  6. Wow, Caroline. I’m so glad you are safe. I was reading your post in utter disbelief and getting goosebumps. I’ll continue to send prayers to everyone there in Nepal.


  7. I am so glad you and Robert are all right. Stay safe and lots of prayers for you guys. We are all thinking of you. Thanks for the up date.


  8. I’ve been thinking about you since it happened, wondering if you came through it or not. Life is so fragile, and everything can change in a heartbeat. It must have been a frightening experience. It’s so good to hear you are both okay. So much devastation and heartbreak. I’ve just been writing about the Christchurch earthquake, which pales in comparison, but the heartbreak is the same. And the way difficult circumstances seem to bring out the best in people is also the same. Thank you for the update.


  9. I’ve just read through your account of your experience of the earthquake. It’s very well written, Caroline. I was here in Europe when the earthquake struck but the funny thing is that I wanted to be there as soon as I heard. I told everybody that our homes were not damaged. This has turned out not to be true and all homes are damaged. I guess the family didn’t want to get us too worried so we would be dashing back to Kathmandu.


    • Sorry to hear that. We are just started to assess what “damaged” means with different properties. Can they be fixed? Is the damage cosmetic? Or are the unsalvageable. .. I hope yours don’t take took much to put right.


  10. So glad to hear that you and your family are well, I just can’t imagine how terrifying that earthquake must have been. I know KTM pretty well for having been there 7 or 8 times, when I was there last year I had quite a long discussion with my guide about the possibility of of an earthquake especially after noticing new buildings going up that just weren’t in their place.
    Luckily Rajeev my guide and his family are all well but no News at all from the Tibetan family I stayed with in Bodnath, I’m very worried about the family I stayed with in Bhaktapur Which seems to have been badly hit and the school I visited in chabahil
    Wishing all the best for the 2 months that are left for your stay in KTM.


    • I know, its very worrying not knowing. However, telecommmunications have not been good, people may simply be displaced or living outside. (The tent villages are smaller now but many, many people are still homeless.) I was at the Kaiser Library (next to the garden of dreams) yesterday looking at the damage. That beautiful old library is in a bad state. So many similar stories. Thanks for your kind thoughts.


  11. I am at a loss for words reading your experience, all I can say is thank goodness you are okay. It looks like when you leave Nepal, I will be coming to Nepal (only for a couple of weeks though). A group from my church had plans to go before the earthquake hit and we are still planning on coming later this summer. Is there any way I can be praying for you or for the area before I get to Kathmandu?


  12. Dear Caroline,

    My name is Joe Pinzone and I’m casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We’d love to film in Nepal and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in nice light. The contributors on the show would also receive monetary compensation if they are filmed. If you’d like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7716 or skype me at joefromnyc. You can also email me at joepinzone@leopardusa.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Joe Pinzone
    Casting Producer
    P: 212-231-7716
    Skype: Joefromnyc


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  14. I’m relieved to hear that you’re safe and doing ok. You’re right that now the news on the earthquake have become secondary news. There are just too many things going on in the world that it’s impossible to capture everyone’s attention on everything and anything. Best wishes to Nepal and the Nepali people – they are tough, strong and resilient – despite losing their possessions and unfortunately, for some, their loved ones – I’m sure they will come out of this tragedy with triumph.

    Liked by 1 person

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