Saturday April 25, 2015
[This was a hard post to write…]
This day started out normally for me, though I was a bit sick with an intestinal bug that seemed to be going around. (I don’t think it was just me finally reacting to Nepal because a lot of people were feeling something also.) I went to a church that got out at about 10:00 am. I was there by myself, and the service was nearly 100% in Nepali, so I got very little of the message, but was able to make out enough (a few) Nepali words, and scriptural names, to figure out that it was about Abraham and having faith.
Just sitting on the dirty rug in a room full of people who I know to be believers in Jesus was still a great joy. When it was over we flooded out of the two story building (they had closed circuit TV between the floors) into a courtyard which very quickly was crowded with people, probably more than 200 – shoulder to shoulder. The entrance was via a 100 foot long alleyway with walls on both sides, like a cattle chute, and we slowly moved in that direction. In this culture (and other Asian cultures) you learn to “push” your way through, because if you don’t you get nowhere and everyone pushes around you. On the way out I passed the pastor who was speaking that day, shook his hand, and greeted him.
I finally made it out to open space, and started walking back to the guesthouse. The festival was still going strong and the streets were filled with people. When I got back to Goshen House I think I made myself some lunch, but I don’t remember for sure. My plan was to go out shopping in the afternoon in preparation my departure the next evening. No one else was around, the YWAM group was out in town, and the Australian missionaries I met on the way into Nepal were still at church. I was on my iPhone, Facebook messaging with Eileen. It was about straight up noon.
I was in the common living room when I heard what I thought was a jet flying over (we were on the flight path for the KTM airport, the only international airport in Nepal). The “jet” got louder and the walls started to shake a little. In the next one to two seconds my mind went through the following progression: that jet is really low. Is it going to crash? Maybe it’s not a jet, but an earthquake. It can’t be an earthquake. It’s an earthquake! It can’t be “the big one.” Yes, it’s a major quake!
At that moment one of the house workers came in the room. Everything was shaking violently at that point and we had to yell to be heard above the noise of the shaking. We were near the front door and I decided that being out in the open was best, and we both shot out the front door. I paused before moving out from under the porch to make sure nothing was falling, then darted into the front courtyard, which was about 15-20 feet wide and bordered by an eight foot brick wall and the guesthouse. There we were joined by two to three other workers from the guesthouse. One man (in blue in the picture) ran back in and came out with family members. Their living quarters were on the third floor! There was a lot of yelling and chaos. All together there were seven of us there – or so we thought.
The shaking continued “forever,” about one and a half minutes, and as it continued you could feel waves in the ground in addition to the shaking. It felt like standing on a dock when there are waves, and it made me feel seasick. I stood there, braced to keep my balance, constantly swiveling my head, watching for anything that might be falling – the building, power poles, wires, brick walls, anything nearby. Nothing near us collapsed! There is a form of prayer that takes place at a time like this that doesn’t require words, at least for me, where you just know God’s presence and have the knowledge that you will live through this. The idea of people screaming in terror to God at a time like this seems wholly unfitting to me… Slowly the shaking subsided but the waves kept coming. As the sound quieted you could hear the echos reverberating throughout the city. Birds were freaking out as they flew through the air, but otherwise there was an eerie silence.
We all just stood there and looked at each other for a moment, then some started nervously laughing, another got on his cell, and I took a picture… Yes, I had my phone with me, and not one frame of video was taken. (I get a pass on that, I know, but still…) We just sat out there a bit, not knowing the condition of our building, and feeling the tiny waves in the ground under us. Suddenly a young girl, one of the YWAMers, walked out of the building! We had no idea she was there, but she had stayed behind to sleep when her team went out earlier. She was the one who was sick the day before, and had been sound asleep when the quake hit. She just rolled off of her bed and rode it out on the second floor. She was in a daze when she came out and joined our little group. We collected our thoughts, and before too long the first big aftershock hit! The main quake eventually was determined to be a 7.8, and the larger aftershocks were probably in the 6.x range. There was this sense of “here we go again” constantly reasserting itself on us.
Before long Daniel and Rosemary (from Australia) returned from the church were they had been preaching that morning. Their story was much worse. Where we were located was apparently on more firm soil and rock, so damage was light. Buildings were cracked, but no collapses in our immediate area. The 1000 liter water tank on the roof ruptured a pipe and drained out, but that was the worst of it. Where Daniel and Rosemary had been was different. People were unable to stand, bricks rained down on the metal roof causing a horrendous noise! On the way back they were in between two brick walls when the first aftershock hit and had to avoid the collapsing walks.
The internet was of course immediately down, and Eileen went to bed when we were cut off. It was midnight at home and she just assumed the usual service interruption had happened. It wasn’t until the next morning that she heard the news. By then I had been able to get word out that I was safe, and so was Nora. The next couple hours were spent assessing the situation and riding out aftershocks. Nora was still in Pokhara and while the damage there was lighter, the shaking was about the same. It was about two hours before the internet came up for a short time the first time, and I got word from her that she was ok.
Eventually we made some quick trips into the guesthouse. I was nearly packed so I grabbed everything from my room, which was near the front door, and brought it out. I figured the first-aid kit, trail food, and UV water purification pen, along with warm clothes would be best if they were outside with us. On one trip inside there was a pretty big aftershock, and the didi looked at me and said “It comes, it comes!” with terror in her eyes. I told her it was ok, and was just an aftershock, and she relaxed – but we still quickly went back outside. It was then that I noticed that they were looking for someone to tell them whether they would be ok, or if a larger one would come and destroy them completely. Scientifically the possibility of a larger quake was a very real possibility, yet I had a confidence that we were not going to see that, so if nothing else I could be a calming factor for them.
By the evening, the decision had been made to not spend the night inside. There was a party venue a couple houses away that was set up for a wedding, and everyone from the area spent the next couple nights there. Due to the majority of structures in Nepal being masonry, everyone was literally sitting in the middle of the street all over Kathmandu. It was the safest place to be. The concept of standing in a doorway that much of the world adheres to could be a death sentence in Nepal!
At this point I should stop and talk about God’s amazing grace in this disaster. If there was ever a “good time” to have an earthquake in Nepal, noon on Saturday was THE time! Schools are closed, many businesses are closed, Christians are in church instead of stone houses (many of which we were told did collapse while they were at church), non-Christians are out in the fields instead of in their houses. Any other day, any other time of day, would have been much worse, and it was bad enough, with the death toll quickly climbing from hundreds to thousands.
As evening fell we packed up blankets and headed to the party venue for the night. There were periods of light rain but fortunately there were awnings up that kept us mostly dry. We made beds of chairs and eventually tried to get a little sleep. Sleep didn’t come easily though, with periodic aftershocks, and everyone’s nerves being on edge, it wasn’t easy.
At one point late at night, around midnight, I decided it was time to venture out. I had the desire to see if the internet was back up so I could make better communication with people back home, and I had another need… let me delicately say that the squatties and lack of adequate toilet paper were becoming a real problem as my intestinal bug has raised its ugly head with a vengeance!
The guesthouse workers felt a real sense of responsibility for us, and kept us on a short leash, so to speak. So I ducked out the gate when I had a chance and walked back to the guesthouse, used the backroom (while making plans for a fast exit if necessary), scavenged toilet paper, and best of all, found that the internet was up for just a few minutes while I was there. Using my phone I got a message out to Nora’s sister who (I think) was online at the time, and left a message for Eileen. Then the internet went down again… When I returned they were all relieved because apparently I had been missed. Oops… But it was awesome, because we all sat together and prayed, and I felt so close to these dear brothers and sisters in Christ!
As we laid there and the night went on, I was struck by several things about earthquakes. First of all, you hear it before you feel it! Still to this day a year later, when I feel/hear a large truck rumble by or some other such event, I get a little alert going off in my head. It’s not a bad trauma, but it’s there. Second, I realized the everything, as far as I could imagine, had been shaken! Everything had moved! It wasn’t some local event, like a huge explosion or building collapse, it was bigger! Every aftershock, some of which we quite sudden and violent though they might have only lasted two seconds, made that abundantly clear. The loud bang, followed by reverberations was very sobering, and would cause people to panic all over again. The third thing was the realization – which you could feel – that everything had actually moved! …a lot during the initial earthquake, and in smaller amounts during aftershocks. It wasn’t just shaking, it was a lurching movement. It was later determined that Kathmandu had dropped about one meter in altitude, had moved to the north three to four meters, and Everest was one meter higher!
Regarding injuries and death… Injuries to our immediate group were very light. Even a few blocks away it was not that way – whole buildings had collapsed. The worst situations were far enough away that we weren’t immediately aware of them, or the needs. I went out the next day to see what needs could be met, but most of our area was coping fairy well by then at least. I was frustrated by the fact that I had a 30 day visa and had to leave soon (if I had a plane to get on the next day). My heart was, and is still, broken for the people of this small, poor country, struggling to make it in the best of times.