Recently at Plymouth University we had a lecture from one of the investigators of the 7.8 earthquake in Nepal that was carried out in June. A lot was said about how poor the infrastructure was and how badly prepared they were. However, instead of pointing fingers at people, I’d like to reflect on what it must have been like for Nepali people, as well as my own experience.
I survived the Gorhka earthquake. I was in Nepal at 11:57 on April 25th, 2015. Had I told my story to an American journalist, then I’m pretty sure this is the only thing that I’d be remembered for – Nothing else. Possibly the Justin Bieber of geohazards. That would be quite disheartening seeing as I’m still a teenager. Did I mention that I’m starting my geology degree this year? So is it fate that an aspiring geologist was caught up in the middle of a catastrophic geological event?
This is my story.
I had just completed a week of teaching English as a foreign language in a rural village of roughly 500 people. It was fantastic, the locals were friendly and I admired the simple way of life the people lived. The Friday was a holiday as there were Buddhist and Hindu festivals going on in Kathmandu. I had to experience the occasion so I set off on an adventure.
The bus twisted and turned as it made it’s way into the capital along with some fun hip-hop music that entertained everyone. Stepping down from the bus at the final destination, I was bombarded by loud locals. Everyone was friendly and it was turning out to be a nice day. As I waited for a friend I looked around the markets to think of ideas of gifts for friends and family back home. I even made a list of what I should buy when I was enjoying some coffee. Later in the afternoon my friend picked me up on his motorbike before travelling up a hill to get to a quieter district. More and more people began to dominate the streets. Suddenly there was hardly anywhere to park the bike. It was like turning up to a party with a piano. Eventually we found somewhere to park and eat Nepalese dumplings (mo mos) whilst sitting on a very soft patch of grass.
It was a cold and wet evening but that wasn’t enough to hinder my excitement for the festival that was about to begin. The great Buddhist festival that occurs annually was on the lips of everyone. In the distance I could see a huge chariot with ropes hanging from it. Shouting could be heard from the top of this tilting wooden sculpture. To me, it looked like an Asian version of the leaning tower of Pisa. People were translating to me how important this event was. It was obvious to see! No-one wanted it to collapse at any moment, even though there were times when I thought it was going to bring down the electricity pylons with it.
Later that night I had jackfruit curry with my friends family who were some of the sweetest people I’ve met. I had a late breakfast with them the next morning before leaving the house in a rush. This time I was on my way to meet another friend who I’d soon get to know very well over the next few days. We’d arranged to meet in the Tamil district at 11:30, so I ran. We were going to visit one of the sacred temples that I’d heard so much about. Being on time in Nepal meant that I was incredibly early anyway so I waited at a roundabout watching some table tennis. Moments before the quake a dog passed me with a petrified look on its face. So strange that I still remember that facial expression.
Within minutes the ground shook violently. Standing up felt difficult as the muscles in my legs turned to jelly. I slowly turned round to watch a 4 story building collapse like a breaking wave. The same building that I’d seen people walk into moments before. Dust threw itself everywhere. Locals were shouting “EARTHQUAKE!” and only then did it feel real. When the 50 seconds of shaking stopped, all you could hear were screams of distress. All I could do was run. The safest area I found was in the park so I phoned my friend to find out that she was ok, then sent a quick text to my parents. After that, the level of signal was minimal. I don’t think any one could make contact by phone for at least a couple of days. Most people were desperate to make contact with families in rural areas, as was I. Somehow I found my friend in the park. She was incredibly worried for her family like the other 28 million people of Nepal. In the park I saw radios and mobile phones. I heard some saying “10 dead over there” and “13 dead over by the tower”. The ground that we trusted continued to swing sideways. Luckily we got a vehicle to drive us to her house where we witnessed the destruction in the streets. We drove past a lorry that had sunk into a huge gap in the road. I took a while for the whole experience to sink in.
There were buildings pictured like the tower from Pisa, but this time there was no reason to celebrate. To compare it to the western world it must have been like seeing your football team win the champions league one day and losing your most cherished memories the next.
We made camp for the night outside whilst cooking our own meals. Sadly, it felt like a living nightmare as we experienced 100 more aftershocks in 24 hours. To make things worse, a 6.2 aftershock rocked Kathmandu on the Sunday. It was probably scarier than the initial quake because when you’ve already experienced a big one, you don’t know how bad the next one will be.
For those 4 days we were camping outside, there were more aftershocks, torrential rain and more fear as the death toll kept adding up on the radio. Despite the problems, I admired the courage of the people I made friends with. Because you don’t define yourself by what you have, it’s when everything’s taken away when you see who you truly are.