Showing posts with label 2015. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2015. Show all posts

Apr 23, 2018

April 25th, 2015 - The Earthquake in Nepal

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

On Saturday morning, April 25th, 2015 at 11:56AM an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8Mw or 8.1Ms hit the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal. Its epicenter was east of Gorkha District at Barpak and occurred at a depth of approximately 8.2 km (5.1 miles). It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless with entire villages flattened. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. In total, nearly 9,000 people were killed and nearly 22,000 injured as a result of this horrific natural disaster.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
We are in Pokhara to the northwest of Kathmandu, most of the force of the quakes went eastward from the epicenter in Gorkha towards Kathmandu and  Mt Everest.

What started off as a beautiful sunny day soon ended in disaster. I was just finishing cooking lunch that morning when I heard what I thought was a large truck driving by. Then the house began shaking and I knew it was an earthquake. Being a native Californian I am quite used to earthquakes so I wasn't particularly panicked. In fact, I was living in San Francisco during the M6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. Earthquakes are not uncommon in the Himalayas and this wasn't the first one I'd felt since moving here. But the shaking continued and grew more intense. I braced myself in the doorway between the kitchen and the pantry as we were taught to do as schoolchildren in California. The shaking continued and grew stronger. At that point, I grabbed a cat in each hand and ran out the door into the middle of an empty field. I recall watching the power lines and the concrete poles carrying them swaying. I saw the neighbors running out of their houses too. After what seemed an interminable length of time the shaking finally stopped.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

If you've ever experienced an earthquake the oddest thing is the silence afterward (unless things are still falling down I suppose). No birds chirped, no dogs barked, no vehicles honked for about five minutes after the earthquake finally stopped. Just eerie and complete silence. Gingerly I walked around our house checking for damage before entering. The house's foundation was seemingly undamaged. I called my husband. THE PHONE WORKS! My husband said there was no damage where he was at either. WHEW. Ten minutes later the phone stopped working but I was able to go online. There was no local news coverage of the earthquake. I watched the nightmarish damage in Kathmandu on CNN Asia two hours later. Kathmandu reportedly shifted 3m (10 ft) to the south in a matter of just 30 seconds. Continued aftershocks occurred throughout Nepal at the intervals of 15–20 minutes.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

We took a drive around our town and surprisingly there was little damage. The wall of one house fell causing an elderly woman to suffer a heart attack and a freestanding garden wall toppled. No sirens, no billowing smoke, no piles of rubble as there had been after the Loma Prieta earthquake when I was living in San Francisco. Within four hours of the devastating earthquake, the Indian Air Force swung into action and routed one C-130J aircraft, two C-17, one IL-76, 295 NDRF personnel, 46.5 tonnes of relief materials, and five sniffer dogs to Nepal. Just before sunset planes from the Indian Army began arriving at our local airport to survey the damage near the epicenter up at Gorkha.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

Because the aftershocks were still coming so strongly and frequently most Nepalis stayed outside. Tables, chairs, umbrellas, cots, and even tents were set up outside nearly everyone's house. Streets and yards were filled with people too afraid to go back into their homes. I wished I'd taken more photos of this. (I did not have a smartphone then.) Invalids who hadn't seen the light of day in years were brought out of homes and set on charpoys and makeshift beds along the street. People were chatting amiably and taking meals in fields and curbside. I met neighbors I didn't even know I had! People remained outside their homes like this for months, even if their homes were undamaged out of fear or yet another huge quake.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

The day after the earthquake my husband gathered donations from local Indian businessmen to send two large trucks full of supplies and a small team of doctors to the quake epicenter in Gorkha district.  Gorkha is quite steep and the roads are rudimentary at best. He came back covered head to toe in mud and said he was surprised that in spite of the damage he saw very few injuries.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

The second day after the earthquake more Indian Army helicopters and planes arrived at our local airport. In total the Indian Air Force and Army flew 2,223 sorties, shifted 11,200 people to safer places, and transported about 1,700 tonnes of relief materials. Eight medium lift helicopters ( Russian made Mi-17 V5's and Mi-17's ) from the Indian Army carried out relief and rescue operations from our little airport. The Indian relief and rescue mission was deemed "Operation Maitri " and continued until June 4th, 2015.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
One of the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft taking off from the airport in Kathmandu.

The U.S. Marine Corps arrived in Nepal on May 5th. As part of Operation Sahayogi Haat, the U.S. military contributed three Marine Corps UH-1Y Huey helicopters, four Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, four Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, four Air Force C-130 Hercules, and four Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules aircraft to the relief effort. On 12 May 2015, U.S. Marine Corps Bell UH-1Y Venom, BuNo 168792, 'SE-08', of Camp Pendleton-based HMLA-469 was declared missing in the Charikot region while conducting humanitarian relief operations in the wake of the 7.8M earthquake. The Nepalese Army discovered the crashed aircraft on 15 May 2015. All 13 occupants were found deceased. A news release from III Marine Expeditionary Force stated that the chosen route, which may have been made because one or more of the injured were in need of urgent treatment, took the UH-1Y Huey helicopter for a brief period over unfamiliar terrain in unstable weather. The unfamiliar terrain they were flying over in Charikot was a near vertical gorge covered with thick rainforest. Unstable is an understatement when describing Nepal's sudden, violent, and capricious storms.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
Rescue crews with sniffer dogs searching the rubble after the avalanche at Langtang.

The high altitude valley of Langtang was buried in an avalanche estimated to have been 2-3kms wide. Contact with some of the remote areas of Nepal is often tenuous even under the best of circumstances. It was weeks before we learned that the entire village of Langtang and many smaller settlements on its outskirts were buried during the earthquake. The area suffered an estimated 310 deaths, including 176 Langtang residents, 80 foreigners, and 10 army personnel. More than 100 bodies were never recovered.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
The wrong side of an avalanche on Mt Everest.

The earthquake triggered several large avalanches on and around Mount Everest. Between 700 and 1,000 people were on or near the mountain when the earthquake struck. At least twenty-two people were killed, surpassing an avalanche that occurred the previous year as the deadliest disaster on the mountain.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
A modern home collapsed in Kathmandu. I spoke to a Japanese engineering team surveying the earthquake damage who told me that most of the houses that collapsed like this were built on sandy soil.

In Kathmandu, most modern buildings remained standing after the quake. Several centuries-old temples and towers were destroyed though. The nine-story Dharahara Tower, a Kathmandu landmark built by Nepal's royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800's and a UNESCO-recognised historical monument was reduced to rubble. One hundred and eighty bodies were pulled from the rubble of Dharahara Tower.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
Dharahara or Bhimsen Tower prior to the earthquakes of 2015.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
Dharahara or Bhimsen Tower after the earthquakes of 2015.

The ancient city of Bhaktapur on the outskirts of Kathmandu was particularly hard hit. Around 90% of buildings in Bhaktapur were structurally compromised if not reduced to rubble. You can see what Bhaktapur looked like before the earthquakes in scenes from the 1993 film Little Buddha. Most of its beautifully preserved yet fragile brickwork temples, palace courtyards, and temples were destroyed.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

The continuous aftershocks made rescue and relief work difficult if not impossible. Then on May 12th, 2015 a second major earthquake occurred with a magnitude of 7.3. This earthquake occurred along the same fault as the original magnitude 7.8 earthquake of April 25th but further to the east. It is considered to be an aftershock of the April 25th quake. Minutes later, another 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal with its epicenter in Ramechhap, east of Kathmandu.

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,

These aftershocks caused mass panic as many people were still reeling from the devastation of the April 25th earthquake. At least 153 people were killed and more than 3,200 people were injured by these huge aftershocks. I ran screaming from the house with a cat under each arm and Ms. Dawg in tow myself!

earthquake, nepal, 2015, pokhara, kathmandu, April 25, disaster,
For months after the earthquakes, we would see huge clouds of dust from ongoing avalanches off in the distance. The dust you see to the left of the photo and near the center is from avalanche dust. Some of these dust clouds were so huge they turned the sky a deep khaki tan for days.

And so, 2015 was quite the year. We were unbelievably fortunate that our little town was spared. TV crews and rescue teams from around the world continued to flood into Nepal. To add to the already monumental problems there was an unofficial border blockade between India and Nepal in September 2015 that caused a shortage of fuel, medicines, and seeds. Prices skyrocketed due to this ongoing political crisis. Amazingly, most of Kathmandu was rebuilt by 2016. Nepalis are quite accustomed to natural disasters and seem to take it all in stride. Unfortunately, many of the damaged and destroyed ancient temples and historic sites haven't been rebuilt yet. There's a bit of a disagreement as to how to rebuild them. Should the ancient sites be restored exactly as they were or rebuilt using modern earthquake-resistant materials and techniques?



Candle-light vigil in 2017 for the victims of the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal
Nepal is sure to suffer more earthquakes in the future, just when is the only question. This Wednesday will mark the third anniversary of this natural disaster that killed thousands and injured many more in the Himalayan nation. Amazingly,  tourist bookings are higher now than in 2014 before the earthquake!

Bibi ;)
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