THE FUTURE OF A WHOLE COUNTRY DESTROYED IN 90 SECONDS
On 25 April 2015, a severe earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 hit Nepal. The epicentre was only 80 km from the capital, Kathmandu. The devastating shocks lasted for 90 seconds. People ran outside in panic, whilst houses, roofs, stairs, walls, … everything collapsed above them. Once outside, power cables, masts, water tanks, and advertising signs were turned into deadly projectiles.
The earthquakes also caused many landslides. Countless historic buildings, sacred temples, as well as roads, bridges, and other infrastructure was destroyed. The force of the moving tectonic plates was so strong that Kathmandu was shifted an incredible three meters towards the south. It was the strongest earthquake recorded in 80 years.
Over the following days, the country was hit by severe aftershocks. Thousands of frightened people slept outside in the rain, too afraid to return to their homes, or not having any home left to return to.
The following figures illustrate the impact of the disaster: up to 10 million people were directly affected by the earthquake. More than 8,650 people lost their lives, more than 100,000 were injured. 1.4 million people had no access to food, and one million had no access to clean drinking water. Nearly three million people temporarily lost their homes. More than 600,000 people lost their home altogether, in addition to 269,000 people whose homes suffered severe damage and the destruction of 30,000 classrooms. (Source: www.unocha.org/nepal)
The second earthquake
A second massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 hit Nepal on May, 12th. This time, the epicentre was Northeast of Kathmandu. Many houses damaged by the first quake, now collapsed as a result of the second one. The same morning, our Back to Life team in Nepal met at our Kathmandu office to coordinate the emergency response. Once the tasks were allocated, everyone left the office. Only our project manager, Dikendra, stayed:
‘I was writing reports in the office, when suddenly, the windows started shaking, the walls swayed – again, the same feeling as if hell broke loose. I will never forget these sounds. Papers flew from the desk. I tried to stand up, but couldn’t balance. So, I sat down on the floor, which was moving back and forth. A minute later, the office was turned into a mess. Pictures had fallen off the wall, cupboards were toppled over, papers and files were scattered everywhere. I just grabbed my phone and ran outside. There, I tried to reach my family and our employees, but had no reception. I quickly typed SMS to all our employees and one after the other came back to me. I walked home. Everyone in Kathmandu was on the street, trying to get outside, trying to call other people, some cried, sirens set off everywhere. People told each other where new fatal destructions where reported. The Eastern districts were reportedly severely affected. I called a friend in Sindhupalchok. He said that the Arniko Highway was impassable due to massive landslides – that is the main traffic artery connecting Kathmandu directly with China.
The streets of Kathmandu were even more chaotic than usual. Everyone was trying to somehow reach their relatives. The squares were filled with desperate people, just like after the first quake. Yet, this time, most of them were carrying emergency rations, tarpaulins, and blankets. They were prepared to survive and live on the streets again.
When I finally reached my home, I was very relieved that my family was unhurt. I gave them a big hug. At first, I was unsure whether we should go back to the streets, but the danger of being inside a building was too big. Hence, we returned to the same place we had run to the first time. My 14- and 18-year-old daughters, my 77 year-old father, my 2-year-old son, my wife, and I.”
Dikendra and his family stayed outside for several days. This was a psychological burden for everyone in his family, and so it was for everyone in the country. They had just begun to process the terrible experience of the first quake and started to clear the rubble, when destiny struck again. What a terribly discouraging setback these families had to endure. The second earthquake claimed far fewer physical casualties, but it buried hope for a return to normality.