Monday, May 4, 2015

When the Big One struck Nepal


Saturday, 25 April 2015, I was at the office, alone on the first floor. I was engrossed in my work when I felt a little lightheaded. I looked up and felt the floor tremble, growing in intensity along with a rattling noise accompanied by a deep roar. The house started to buckle and I was hypnotized by the sight of the computer screen on my desk rock back and forth and inch towards the edge of the table.  I grabbed my phone to call my wife but there was no signal. I looked out and saw people out on the empty lot in front of the office, yelling, asking me to get out.
I was gesturing to them to say that I was all right when I saw the brick wall behind them fall away. I was terrified, but the people who were in actual danger of being crushed by the collapsing wall, were totally unaware. The rumbling must have been so loud that they didn’t hear the wall crash. The trees and building were swaying and I stood, trying hard to keep my balance. When the shaking stopped, I shut off the electricity and walked down, got on my bicycle and rushed back home to see if my family was all right.
Anyone who has lived in the Himalayan region has lived with earthquakes. We are not easily rattled by temblors. I was in Sikkim when the 18 September 2011 earthquake shook the state, and although that experience was scary, it pales in comparison to what arrived in Kathmandu on the 25th of April. The media in Nepal keeps reminding people of the massive earthquake of 1934 to drive home the point that the next Big One was in the making. In fact, Nepal marks the National Earthquake Safety Day on 15 January every year on the anniversary of the 1934 earthquake which killed 4,500 people in Kathmandu valley alone. I was convinced that the Big One had arrived and prayed that its impact was not as calamitous as had always been feared and experts had projected. The sky wore an ominous look of startled birds in flight and walls of dust.

As I rode past a group of women, they told me that the lane was blocked.  I turned the corner and saw that the walls flanking the lane had collapsed. I carried the bike over the debris and got to the main road.
Everyone was out of their houses and were standing in the middle of the road; among them were a few sitting on the tarmac itself, shell-shocked two-wheeler riders with bikes on their sides, skid marks indicating that they had been felled by the tremors. A numb panic hung heavy in the air.

When I got home, I was relieved to find my wife and elder son safe.  The only one missing was my younger son who had apparently gone to Patan. We did not know it at the time, but Patan was more severely hit, too many of its heritage structures leveled. I tried to reach him on his phone but kept getting a message that said, “Not registered to network”.
My wife said she had received a call from him at around 12:45 pm saying he was alright, which was a big relief.

Later, I was horrified when he narrated his narrow escape. He had parked his bike below a temple at the Patan Durbar Square and had gone to a nearby cafe. When the tremor started, the temple collapsed on his bike right in front of him. He was himself covered in dust but unharmed.
A lot of the old temples at the Patan Durbar Square fell that day.

Once I knew my family was safe, I ventured out again on the bicycle.  The sights were heartbreaking.  The 203 feet tall historic tower, Dharara, that overlooked Tudikhel, the central park of Kathmandu, had collapsed. I was told that more than 250 people were buried under the rubble. A group of students on a tour were said to have been inside the tower when it came down.
Basantapur, a world heritage site, was now a heap of bricks. 
Tourists were streaming out of Thamel walking around a taxi pinned down by a fallen electric pole which had blocked the entire road in front of the Garden of Dreams. 

I had seen enough and decided to get out of the way and return home.

A seemingly endless number of aftershocks rocked us throughout the night.
Each tremor was accompanied by screeching birds that would burst out of the trees followed by nervous chatter of people. Most of the people camped out for the night, unwilling to trust their houses.

The next morning, I decided to go and check on people I knew. I was at Budhanilkanta when the second big one (6.8 magnitude) rocked us at around 1 pm, Sunday 26 April 2015. It did not last very long, but caused further damage to already weakened structures. I saw dust rise from crumbling houses high up in the Shivapuri Hills. My heart sank thinking of the people living in those houses, praying they were not indoors.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Readers are invited to comment on, criticise, run down, even appreciate if they like something in this blog. Comments carrying abusive/ indecorous language and personal attacks, except when against the people working on this blog, will be deleted. It will be exciting for all to enjoy some earnest debates on this blog...