Jagbandhu Vyas, an Indian national living in Kathmandu for the past 10 years, had taken his mother, who was visiting him, to Pashupatinath Temple on Black Saturday (25 April). When he was returning to his apartment from the temple, he realised that his motorcycle was not moving properly. Though Vyas tried applying the brakes, the two-wheeler did not stop. Surprised and scared, he applied the brake again. The bike came to an immediate halt but he fell off it.
To his surprise, he saw other bikers fall off their vehicles in a similar fashion. “First I thought that the rear wheel of my motorcycle might have got punctured but when I saw the compound wall of the Jama Masjid caving in, I realised that it was an earthquake. I heard two panicked men and a woman shout, “Allah”. I caught hold of them and heard myself chanting “Om Shanti, Om Shanti.”
Vyas was narrating his experience of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal at 11.56 am Nepal Standard Time on 25 April. Measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, the earthquake shook Nepal for around 45 seconds. Eleven districts, including Kathmandu, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Gorkha, Nuwakot and Dhading were affected. The epicentre of the quake was Barpak of Gorkha district, 170 kilometres west of Kathmandu. Its impact was also felt in several Indian states — Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, in the National Capital Region around New Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The quake claimed more than 70 lives in India with major losses reported from Bihar, particularly the districts bordering Nepal.
The National Seismological Centre of Nepal recorded 102 aftershocks in the 92 hours after the quake, with the one that shook the Kathmandu Valley on 26 April at 12.54 pm recording 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale. Barpak in Gorkha district , the epicentre of the quake, suffered the most damage.
When Vyas’ mother Saraswati Devi saw four persons running behind her son’s motorcycle, she first thought that they were out to harm her son. “But when I saw the nearby walls collapsing, I knew something was not right. And soon enough, the ground started to tremble,” she recalls.
No sooner did the quake hit Kathmandu than the employees manning the Tribhuvan International Airport ran out of their offices fearing for their lives. Consequently, the airport remained closed for nearly six hours. The devastating quake damaged some old monuments, including Dharahara (Bhimsen Stambha) in Kathmandu, Basantpur Durbar (an old palace in the city from where Prithvi Narayan Shah and his descendants had ruled), Gorkha Palace (the palace from where the Shah kings ruled) in Gorkha districts and some other old temples around Kathmandu. High-rise buildings and housing complexes developed cracks.
Pashupatinath Temple, which had survived the 8.3 magnitude earthquake of 1934, escaped damage this time, too, except for cracks here and there. The 1934 quake killed more than 8,000 people in Nepal and more than 3,000 in Kathmandu alone. “The 2015 quake was the worst since 1934,” says Lok Bijaya Adhikari, the chief of the National Seismological Centre, Nepal. The Himalayan republic shares 800 km of the 2,500 km Himalayan range and as it happens, the entire mountain range is vulnerable to earthquakes.
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According to the data shared by Nepal’s Armed Police with the National Emergency Operation Centre, the death toll crossed 5,000 on 29 April and the number of injured rose to 10,000. The United Nations resident coordinator in Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, who is coordinating the international relief, says, “Around 50 percent of the houses in 39 most affected districts were destroyed within hours of the quake. International rescue teams, including a 350-member Indian team, the largest group so far, are aiding search and rescue efforts in Nepal.”
Since the efforts have remained mostly city-centric, the search and rescue teams have not been able to locate all those trapped under the rubble. Nepal’s initial efforts were hampered due to lack of equipment such as excavators and cutters.
Hospitals in Kathmandu were teeming with patients. The National Trauma Centre admitted 400 patients on the first day itself. Some patients insisted on sitting or resting in the open; consequently, doctors had to treat them outside.
Similarly, some residents of Kathmandu refused to return to their homes and instead chose to fill almost all open spaces in the city, including Tundikhel and Singh Durbar, where the government secretariat is located.
Nineteen climbers who had camped at the Base Camp of Mount Everest in a bid to acclimatise themselves before making the final dash, died due to an avalanche triggered by the massive quake.
People complained of inadequate relief, too. “I have been camping out in the open at Tundikhel for the past four days but I could not get anything to eat or drink,” says Roshan Yadav, who spent three nights at the UN Park in Kathmandu. Yadav says that the global community, including India and China, have extended help to Nepal to deal with the disaster while the Nepal government has failed to respond to the victims’ needs.
Since landslides have blocked some key highways, many villages and communities are having to go without water and electricity and people are forced to survive on meagre reserves of food.
“My sister lives in Thiwan; they are doing better now. When the earthquake occurred, everyone rushed out of their homes… they continue to stay outside because of fear of the aftershocks,” says Nisha, a Nepalese citizen who lives in Delhi.
Like Nisha, Amrit Paul Singh, a social activist from Nepal, has a tragic tale to share. “My grandmother and aunt live in Gorkha while my uncle lives in Kathmandu. Their houses in both places have been destroyed. My relatives in Gorkha were attending church when the quake struck. About 90 percent of the houses have been damaged but fortunately there has not been any loss of life in Gorkha.”
“Everyone has been living in tents since then,” says Singh. “The tents have been provided by relief teams from various countries such as India and Pakistan but it is difficult to live in them as the temperature drops to eight degrees at night. Getting food is also a problem. A packet of noodles is now selling for 100 Nepalese rupees.”