Nepal Earthquake: A First Hand Account

5:02 AM Jessica Montgomery 0 Comments



‘Before I could finish assessing what was happening, the ground REALLY started to shake, and I finally realized that this was THE earthquake we had been warned about, and the adrenaline shot into my veins like icy fire.’ 
-Mary Thompson, Saturday, April 25th, Kathmandu, Nepal

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     So, this is my friend Mary. We met while teaching in South Korea and she is one of the most vibrant and intelligent people that I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. She left Korea and backpacked her way through India (among other places) and ended her journey in Nepal. She is, and had been, living in Kathmandu when the April 25th earthquake hit. She has since managed to organize financial relief efforts and volunteer to help rebuild the devastated city. 

     Below you can read excerpts from Mary's day-by-day account of the quake, it's aftermath, and what it's like living in a city torn apart by natural disaster. I'm sharing her words because I believe that more often than not, people are more inclined to care about something when they can 'put a face with it', or have a personal connection. Hopefully reading her first hand account will help put you in her, and the people of Nepal's, shoes. 

     Mary is collecting financial-relief money in order to protect many of the families that have found themselves stranded in Kathmandu; unable to return to their homes, and those who are stranded elsewhere. She is collecting money for food, shelter, medical aide, and other supplies.  Please visit Women Rebuilding Nepal to send your donations DIRECTLY to those who need it most. Thank you.


image: ccn.com

April 25th, 2015. The day of the quake:

Wake up: 8AM
It started out like any normal Saturday. Actually, better, because I woke up early, cooked a nice breakfast, worked out, had a nice bucket shower (showering with a bucket is a real accomplishment because it takes much more preparation than a regular shower) and made some plans with my American roommate for her last Saturday in Nepal. I then headed off to the weekly farmer’s market to purchase my fancy foreigner delights. 

Farmer's Market: 11:30-12:00
To finish off my shopping trip, I ordered a panini to go. While waiting for my delicious weekly panini, I felt the ground shift ever so slightly. I stared at my feet confusedly, trying to figure out if I was about to faint, if I was standing on a deck or something unstable, or if I was crazy.Before I could finish assessing what was happening, the ground REALLY started to shake, and I finally realized that this was THE earthquake we had been warned about, and the adrenaline shot into my veins like icy fire. This was the first earthquake I had ever truly experienced, and I wasn’t completely sure on the emergency protocol. I managed to run a few strides (turns out one of the protocols is DON’T RUN) to get out from under the tent and grabbed ahold of a stair railing. I managed to look around to check for anything that might fall down and hurt me, and remember feeling relieved to see nothing too hazardous. At the time I wrote this in my notebook, I still had no idea how long the quake actually lasted. But after checking Wikipedia, it apparently only lasted 20 seconds!? WHAT!? My conservative guess had been 40 seconds, but it could have been a full 2 minutes as far as I knew. I remember looking around at everyone else freaking out: screaming, crying, grabbing for support, running out of the nearby restaurant to the parking lot. Some of the people running for safety were people I knew, friends I’d met in just the last few weeks. Finally, the shaking stopped, and I kind of just stood still while I caught my breath and calmed my nerves. My heart was pounding and my breathing heavy. The water from a tiny stream had sloshed around furiously and my leg was wet. Tables and umbrellas and people had fallen over. Mothers with worried faces searched frantically for children who had left their sight at the wrong moment. I knew that we all had been lucky. Nobody was hurt. 

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     Initially in shock and unable to process the seriousness of the situation, Mary attempted to gather up all of the friends she had met and had been staying with. She had not yet seen any collapsed buildings or deceased. She was able to receive international phone calls around 1:30pm.
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Sitting in park: 1:30 - 4:00 PM
The ground continued to move all afternoon. It was like being on a boat. The park began to fill up with Nepali families. A friendly shop owner was there with his family and he was the one who told us about how badly the other areas of Kathmandu had been hit. “Patan, Basantapur and Bhaktapur are gone,” is what he said. It sunk in a little further. Around this time, the 3G network started working, and at 1:36 PM I was able to get on Facebook to post a message that I hoped would be enough to placate all my concerned friends and family who were about to wake up to the news of a huge earthquake in Nepal. I knew the 3G was fleeting, so I had really hoped that message would be seen and I wouldn’t have to worry about a flood of messages jamming up my phone while the networks were still spotty. While on Facebook, I was also able to see that a few Nepali colleagues had been able to post that they were okay, which was a huge relief, although it left me with many concerns for all the rest of them. We were able to learn that the earthquake had started in the Gorkha district, about half way between Kathmandu and Pokhara. We learned that many of Kathmandu’s ancient structures had collapsed, leaving nothing but rubble. It sank in a little more. My roommate and I talked about how in awe we were of the earth, and decided that we would probably convert to whatever religion it is that worships the earth as the all-powerful being it is. The earth is alive and we must appease it! 
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     Mary and her friends found food and shelter in the welcoming arms of the British embassy. They stayed there over night and was advised to return to their homes the following morning by the ambassador himself.

“Then, at about 1PM, the house started to shake, but instead of subsiding after a couple seconds, it intensified.”

     This was an aftershock. An aftershock recorded to be at 6.7; essentially another earthquake.

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“I dove under my desk, which I had left placed in the doorway (apparently the safest place to be if indoors). I yelled to make sure my roommate was awake and doing the same in her room. I could hear the water in the buckets we had filled sloshing around and spilling all over the floor. Finally it stopped. With our adrenaline pumping again, we found each other in the hall and decided it was definitely time to go back to the British Embassy.”

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     The British embassy alerted them that they could no longer house other nationals and that they had to disperse to their respective embassies. Mary, being Canadian, headed to the American embassy camp. 
American embassy food rations.

Soon after, the devastation to Kathmandu became scathingly clear.

[Heading back to her apartment after a night at the camp]
“ On the way back, the bus passed a temple that had been TOTALLY destroyed. Like, you couldn’t even tell it used to be anything. Part of a statue in a roundabout had come down. The stadium was full of people (no roof). Malls were missing windows and parts of their signs. We didn’t drive by the site, but it was clear that you could no longer see the Dharahara tower where it used to stand. Eventually we got back to the park, and it was full of tents. I hoped to myself that the majority of those people still had houses they could return to when the aftershocks had subsided, and were just sleeping outside for safety like me.”

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Wednesday, April 29th
[Attempting to regroup, organize aid, and finances]
“At least 3 Facebook groups had formed in an effort to try to coordinate all the separate volunteer actions that were taking place. One group was geo-mapping all earthquake related events and calls for help. There were countless villages where all the homes had been destroyed and no aid had arrived yet. At this point I hadn’t wrapped my head around the names of the districts, and it was all unfamiliar and far away. But it seemed like so many people in Kathmandu had heard the pleas for assistance and wanted to help in some way. My roomate’s organization, Himalayan Climate Initiative, had also sent some volunteers out to one of the camps to do a needs assessment and hand out some supplies. We had made it through the immediate threat to our survival, but now there was a new sense of urgency in Kathmandu.”

Read Mary's full story: HERE


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Where you can donate and why:
     Mary is an avid international women's rights activist. The donation group, Chhori, focuses on the women and children of Nepal and its villages. These groups are the most at risk during this time.

     Chhori's mission statement:
     We are Chhori . Chhori is the word meaning "daughter" in the Nepali language. The Chhori team has been working hard to empower women in our country and fight for gender equality. We want to stop the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable girls and women. We are a registered non-profit here in Nepal, with a normal focus on education, empowerment and advocacy.


Aid from Chhori


Please consider making a donation.
The need is great and will continue to be great.

**Since I began putting this post together, there has been another earthquake. Your contributions are more than needed, and donating via Go Fund Me will insure they are going where they need to be.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
-Mahatma Ghandi
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