Saturday April 25th
Written on Tuesday April 28
By the time you read this, it will have been 1 week after these events took place. I managed to think about/have time to record them on Tuesday. I am finally getting the chance to type them up and post them now. Here’s a very very detailed account of what happened when the earthquake struck.
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.
Earthquake time: 11:56 AM
Now, you’ll maybe recall, I was still waiting on my panini. Naturally, in hindsight, what I did was totally ridiculous, but I REALLy wanted that panini. So, I politely said “Excuse me, that ham and cheese panini is mine, could I still have it?”
“You want it to go ma’am?”
“I think that’s a good idea.”
So he wrapped up my panini, and I made my way to leave the farmer’s market (to go where? I have no idea guys). When I got to the parking lot, I discovered a group of people, including my friends, sitting on the ground. “Is this the safest place to be?” I asked, and sat down with them. They had been eating brunch and drinking brunch wine when the quake struck. I’m not sure how long we sat there, but it must have been at least 30 minutes because I don’t even remember feeling the first 6.6 aftershock, so that must have been before I’d recovered from the initial shock of what was happening. All I remember is watching a van rock back and forth at one point, so there’s a good chance that was the big aftershock. Who knows? Not me.
Start to walk in streets: 12:45 (ish)
Somewhere around 45 minutes after the initial quake, we decided to part ways. My American roommate had been home alone and I knew she must be scared nearly to death. I planned to go home to check on her, and stop in Thamel (the main tourist neighbourhood) to see if my friends at the hostel were okay. My friends from the farmer’s markets wanted to go back to grab the rest of their wine and cheese. We made plans to meet later that afternoon and get some drinks. Again, in hindsight, I know this all seems ridiculous, bit it took a LONG time for us to wrap our heads around the gravity of the situation. We were worried about grants proposals due on Monday! In my defense, having never experienced an earthquake, I had no idea where it might have ranked on the Richter scale, and probably would have been equally as terrified if it was like a 3.8. We had also not seen ANY destruction on the scale of collapsed buildings or dead bodies. We just didn’t know and couldn’t process the seriousness of the situation.
Arrive in Thamel: 1:00 PM (ish)
Anyway, I set off alone down the street. When I arrived at the intersection near the Garden of Dreams (the main entrance into Thamel) it sunk in just a little further, as a huge crowd had congregated in the middle of the intersection, a safe, open place away from tall building. My mind was like “Oh! Wow, ok, so this was a thing that a lot of people are scared about!” When I turned to look up the street into Thamel, I saw a hydro pole crashed onto an empty taxi, wires everywhere and a pile of bricks from a fallen wall. Even then I knew, this was the kind of street not to be walking down only an hour after a big earthquake. I searched for my friends in the crowded intersection and couldn’t find them. I looked at the fallen wires again, and I bet you can guess what I did next. I walked towards the danger, but as safely as I could. I looked down the alley toward the hostel, and there they were, standing on a pile of bricks that had been a wall an hour before. I joined them in the alley, relieved but still scared. As we hugged and and sputtered our anxious words, another tremor started and we all took off towards the safety of the larger road. Turns out that if you can run without losing your balance, you can’t feel the shaking as badly. I led my friends towards the relative safety of the large intersection, where I bumped into my farmer’s market friends again. At this point, I lost my hostel friends in the crowd, but assumed they would be super busy taking care of the guests, and that if they had survived the big one they would probably continue to be fine.
Leave Thamel 1:15 (ish)
Back with my farmer’s market friends, we decided to not split up again, and to go search for my American roommate together as we were all a little worried about her. At this point, the phone networks were still down, and people were only able to call to numbers outside of Nepal. According to my phone log, I was able to receive a call first at 1:30 PM. an hour and a half after the initial quake. My German roommate was safe in the garden at her friend’s house. Then , my friend, who is living in India called, with the best intentions, but I curtly told her “leave me alone, I’m busy!!!” and hung up (sorry Abby!). I finally got ahold of my American roommate, and we set off to find her in a park near our place, across from the British embassy. One of my friends became desperate and ducked behind a bush to change her tampon, I had to do a #2, basically since the initial quake shook my bowels up, but opted to continue to hold it. Two of the girls set off to check on one their boyfriend’s parents, and I stayed in the park with my roommate.
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!
British Embassy 4:00-5:00
Around 4pm, the 2 other girls returned, with news that the British Embassy was taking in anybody from North America, the EU and Commonwealth countries. We decided to go and check it out. We had no problem getting in (thanks Western privilege!), and no joke, were promptly handed cups of tea. Bless the British. The man in charge informed us that they were the ONLY embassy taking in ANYBODY. As in, Americans couldn’t even go to their embassy, nor Canadians to their consulate, and expect to receive any help, a fact which was confirmed by numerous others later on. The embassy had a nice, large lawn, an earthquake proof building, working toilets (which I immediately relived myself in), water, food and blankets. Also, a small British boy named Henry (awww) who was on rubbish patrol (AWWWWWW).
At my apartment 5:30-7:00
We STILL hadn’t fully wrapped our heads around the situation, except for my American roommate who we usually tease for being overly paranoid. 3 of us decided to go home to spend the night, and she said “No way, I’m sleeping here!” We thought she was being over paranoid. As our apartment is near the British embassy, she decided to walk back with me to grab some of her stuff, and went immediately back to the embassy. I stayed outside with some of the neighbours who were sitting in the front yard. The told me that they’d be there all night. I went into my apartment (stupidly) and noticed that by some miracle, the wifi was still working! So I quick Skype called my mom, during which there were a couple scary tremors, and an interruption when my landlord came to chat. My building was (is) is great shape. No cracks on the inside, outside, or even on the roof.
Start of Skype call to mom: 6:00 PM
My German roommate finally returned home, and after experiencing a couple more tremors, she said she thought we needed to go outside. We saw that many of our neighbours were choosing to spend the night outside for safety, and finally I relented. After all my stubbornness, I also ended up back at the british Embassy, because it was the safest, closest place to sleep. When we got inside, we found that my friends, who had also decided not tot stay, were back too. Apparently, they had driven to one of their homes, seen all of the people preparing to camp outside for the night, and turned back for the embassy. Again, in hindsight, of course this was the right decision. It was totally not safe to be sleeping inside a building.
British Embassy 7:00 PM onwards
So, about 8 of us gathered around and shared some cheese, bread, cookies and candies that had been purchased at the farmer’s market and then carried around all day. I finally ate the second half of my apparently more-important-than-life panini. The ground continued to move beneath us all the while. We began to feel tired, and 5 of us opted to sleep out in the open. We found a tarp and some blankets, and I managed to drift off into an uneasy sleep.
Sleeping outside: 10PM- 1AM
I was woken around midnight or 1AM when it started to rain, and we decided to move inside to avoid getting wet, cold and sick. The floor space was full and we all ended up having to split up. After I had got all settled down and cozy in my blanket, it only took about 5 minutes for a big tremor to hit and get everyone running out of the building. I personally only made it as far as slipping my shoes on before it subsided and I decided to just like back down. A few people remained outside for about an hour to calm their nerves. Another big tremor woke us all up at about 5AM, causing people to run outside again. The sky had begun to lighten and the birds were chirping, so there was no getting back to sleep after that. At about 6AM, the soldiers in charge came through with the official wake up call and informed us that breakfast was served. These guys were absolutely amazing, all charm class, patience and competence.
Breakfast served: 6AM Sunday
And here is the end of my first day and night of earthquake. Stay tuned for what happens next! Spoiler alert: I manage to survive!!