Surviving Another Disaster

after the nepal earthquake

The Day After the Nepal Earthquake

April 25th,2015 had come and gone. It was one of the worst days in Nepal’s already tragic history and the scariest day of my life. Over 9,000 people were dead and an estimated 3.5 million were left homeless by the 7.8 earthquake. The day was behind us, but the realizations and emotions of what had happened, and the long road to recovery lay before us. The dust had settled, so it was time to face reality. It was April 26th, 2015 – the day after the Nepal earthquake. We were stuck in a disaster zone, in a third world country. What was next for us, and what was next for Nepal?

As a result of spending the night in an open field, away from anything that could come down on us, we were  lacking sleep. We tried to get some sleep, but every 45 minutes or so we’d feel some slight shaking. It was hard to tell if it was real or just our paranoid imaginations. So, we learned to listen to the dogs and watch the birds for answers. If dogs were barking and birds all taking flight at once, the earth was actually shaking. Otherwise, it was our paranoia.

It was the day after a major catastrophe. We couldn’t just sit and do nothing. We decided to go for a walk, but we had no destination in mind. What could we do? Should we help? We wandered a bit in search of something…anything that would give us some direction.

the day after the nepal earthquake

Sharing stories

We found our feet walking on top of bricks that made up a wall less than 24 hours earlier. The same wall outside our guesthouse where we had been when the quake struck. Further down the alley was their sister hotel, where we had eaten breakfast the past two days. Their outdoor garden seemed to be somewhat of a gathering place. The place was a buzz. People were trading stories about where they were when it happened, what they did the rest of the day, and what they were going to do now. The energy was nervous. The Nepali’s who worked at the guest house were all there as if it was a regular day of work, but their families were also taking refuge in the garden.

We bounced around between groups sharing stories and gathering intel on what people had seen and heard. We fell in with a group of tattoo artists who were in town for a tattoo convention that was in full swing when the quake hit. Artists and customers from all over the world had come to connect, and receive/give tattoos, but their plans were literally shaken apart. We learned that one convention attendee became so scared and overcome with panic when the shaking started, he jumped out of a 4th floor window, plummeting to the shaking ground below. Other convention goers were in the middle of tattoo sessions, and were now wandering Kathmandu with partial tattoos with some shaky lines. To try to calm their nerves from the day before, some of the tattoo artists were designing commemorative 7.8 tattoos. Everyone had their own way to cope.

Some people were discussing how unlucky all of us were that we happened to be in Nepal for the earthquake. I was almost offended by that way of looking at it. The way I saw it, we made it through a natural disaster, more or less unscathed – with all of our loved ones, all of our livelihoods, and all of our homes still in tact. We were surrounded by death, destruction and loss. But we were the lucky ones! We were the survivors!

the day after the nepal earthquake

An annoying reality…

What does being a survivor mean? We were just normal people with normal human concerns. We started discussing all of these concerns, from where we were going to sleep to how we were going to get our laundry back. At some point, Kari and I realized that we had dropped our laundry off in the basement of a Thamel building just hours before the quake. The bulk of both of our backpacks were in those laundry bags. It felt weird to be worried about our clothes at a time like that, but in a strange way, it gave us a much needed rest from the real problems around us. We didn’t even know if the laundry building was still standing.

Half curious, and half nervous and needing to move, I decided that I would take a walk to go see if there was any hope of getting our clothes back – clean or dirty, it didn’t matter. I headed off innocently enough. Thamel was practically empty. Void of taxis. Pedicabs were left abandoned. Doors to shops, shut tight. The building and its neighboring buildings appeared untouched. I cautiously proceeded into the subterranean basement to the place where a laundry sign had been the day before. The doors were locked. I knocked for good measure but there was no response. The whereabouts of our clothes would remain a mystery.

the day after the nepal earthquake

Taking a moment…

As I started to make my way back to the guest house, I was overtaken by curiosity. I walked past the alleyway to a larger intersection where many had gathered the day before. The intersection was just as busy and chaotic as it had been immediately after the quake. Motorbikes zipped past in all directions, trucks with debris and people chugged past leaving large plumes of black smoke in their wake. I took a moment right there on that corner. A deep inhale and exhale. It was my first time being alone since yesterday’s quake. I thought to myself, what are we going to do? How am I going to keep us safe?

In that moment…that one moment I had taken for myself…the railing my hand was holding started to vibrate. My hopes said truck…until my feet started to vibrate. Then, I realized the the earth was moving again. Big side to side motions. I saw a motorbike wobble and go down. Honking, screaming, running, the sound of the concrete and asphalt flexing. I ran with the crowd to middle of the road, away from anything that could come down on us. The shaking lasted about 25 seconds. I was thankful that I was in the open space.

But, Kari wasn’t. I sprinted the 3 blocks dodging between people, hopping piles of rubble and toppled brick. My heart was in my throat. Panic. There’s not a stronger or better feeling I can remember than when I saw her…safe. We shared an embrace. It was all that mattered. We were each other’s whole world – more so now than ever before. In that moment, we decided that as long as we were in Nepal, as long as the earth kept shaking, we wouldn’t separate again. We weren’t going to have to search for our loved ones.

the day after the nepal earthquake

Making it make sense

It was at that moment we realized how scared we were. It was that moment we realized how fragile life is. We could have lost each other. How was this happening…again? We couldn’t believe their was just another major earthquake. This one a 6.9. That’s the same magnitude of the deadly 1989 Loma Prieta (San Francisco) Earthquake that remains one of Kari’s most vivid childhood memories. It was certain to have caused more destruction and taken more lives.

What was our family thinking and hearing about the Nepal earthquake back home? They must have been terrified too. As terrified as we were in that moment. What would we do? Where would we go? How could we prevent others from worrying about us? Those next few hours were perplexing as we sifted through our own thoughts and the information coming in, to sort out a safe place for us.

the day after the nepal quake

Our oasis in the madness

We ended up checking in with the US Embassy so they could mark us as safe. They sent us to a place, we all affectionately came to know “American Club Med”. In normal times, a sort of country club for diplomats and expats. It’s maintained by and as part of the US embassy. Now it had become a refugee camp of sorts. Imagine a perfect small park, complete with a baseball field, soccer field, playground, tennis courts, pool, and clubhouse. Now, surround it by military grade bunker walls and add high tech security.

Two large event tents in left and center field became home for close to 300 people sleeping on cots and wooden palettes. We learned that the US embassy was allowing American citizens and foreign nationals from countries without embassies in Kathmandu to stay there until they or their country could arrange for onward plans. It was also allowing any of the Nepalis that worked at the club who had lost their homes to stay there. The club had their own well for drinking water, and boxes of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s, like space food). Plus, they pumped pool water into the bathrooms, so we had  showers and flushing toilets. It wasn’t much, but to us it was everything.

When we first arrived, it felt like we had magically walked into Utopia. No fallen bricks, no views of destruction, no angry crowds… nothing that could fall on us. A safe zone. It made us feel less displaced, and put our racing minds at rest. I know our loved ones at home were also put at ease, knowing we had a safe ‘home’. We had food, water, shelter and each other. Finally, we could calm ourselves and focus on what would come next. We put our names on a short list of people wanting to stay and help, and started asking around to see if anyone knew how we could best help. We had everything we needed, except a plan.

This is a short before and after video we made, displaying the destruction left after the Nepal earthquake

Want to know more about our experiences during and after the Nepal earthquake?

4/25/15 – The Day of: Through The Nepal Earthquake

What We Loved and Didn’t Love: Nepal – Best and Worst

For more about the Nepal earthquake(s), check out The United States Geological Survey

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