NEPAL EARTHQUAKE UPDATE
Trek to Stay Alive
Nearly a month after Nepal was rocked by a 7.8 earthquake, its people are very much in need.
Thousands remain without shelter, food supplies are scant and the tourism-based economy is in ruins. The early onset of monsoon rains make already damaged roads impassable. Villagers walk up to three hours to receive food because relief agencies don’t have enough helicopters to reach them by air. Communications are still down; the situation remains in chaotic flux and is likely to remain so for weeks if not months.
Relief efforts were initially botched as food supplies were held up in customs at Kathmandu Airport. Politics reared its ugly head too. Nepal’s ruling Congress Party issued a decree saying all relief funding had to be channeled through the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. International relief agencies defied the decree fearing its donations would go for political purposes. They know the need is greatest in rural Nepal where support for the ruling party is low. Relief agencies as well as foreign governments are now working in remote villages erecting temporary shelters with adjacent sanitation stations. Despite losing an eight man helicopter crew, the U.S. continues its relief efforts using servicemen originally based in the Philippines.
This is Nepal’s worst disaster since 1934 when over 8,500 perished in an earthquake. The current crisis is equally staggering. Nearly 8,600 were killed in the initial quake and the second 7.3 jolt two weeks later. The injured are approaching 20,000 and hundreds are missing presumed dead. Approximately 70,000 homes have been destroyed with another 500,000 badly damaged.
Some villages on the most popular trekking routes have been obliterated. When a massive ice glacier broke off, the avalanche crushed the village of Langtang, destroying all 47 homes, killing 187 Nepalese and between 50 and 70 foreign trekkers. American, British and Nepalese united in their desperation continue to pick through debris hoping to find loved ones. Langtang is a microcosm of the disaster in rural Nepal.
Tusker’s Relief Fund
Tusker owners, Eddie & Amy Frank decided to establish a relief fund targeted at the Sherpas who serve trekkers on Tusker’s Everest Base Camp trips. In less than a week, the fund has raised over $8,000. “There were 20 working in our crew and they have all been impacted. They have no work now, there is no tourism and that means no food on the table. Infrastructure has been badly damaged, some have medical issues, the need is all over the place,” Eddie says. “The need is immediate so instead of waiting to create a tax deductible fund which could take months to set up we decided to do something now giving to those we know are needy.”
Tusker’s relief fund is being channeled through Sonam Gyalpo the owner of Senge Tours who is Tusker’s business partner in Nepal. Sonam is still trying to gather details on the condition of the Tusker Sherpas and writes in an email, “I’m collecting info/details but because communications are down, roads are blocked by landslides, and the aftershocks are still continuing, it’s taking some time to get all the details.”
Mel’s Call For Help
At 12:15 am April 25, Amy Frank got a call from Mel Kaida, Tusker’s lead Nepal trekking guide. Mel had good and bad news. All 16 members of Tusker’s group were safe, but she told Amy the country had been rocked by an earthquake. Mel didn’t how big, but knew the group would not be ascending to its goal of Everest Base Camp just two hours away.
The travel gods had smiled on the Tusker party. The group was heading to Everest Base Camp that afternoon but had been delayed when water source contamination had delayed their lunch and subsequent departure for Base Camp.
That afternoon and night Mel and Erik Forsythe, a paramedic and Tusker medical guide, helped treat trekkers from other groups who had descended to the lodge at Gorak Shep where Tusker’s party was staying. They treated a host of relatively minor injuries and found out later that day that ten had perished at EBC. The final grim tally would be 18.
Over the next 24 hours Amy, back at Tahoe HQ, worked out an evacuation plan while Mel plotted her client’s descent down to Namche. Through Ripcord, Tusker’s emergency evacuation service, Amy was able to get a large M-18 helicopter to meet the group at Syangboche airstrip. On the two day descent the group saw numerous destroyed homes. Mel strictly kept the group moving rapidly not allowing photos. Aftershocks were common.
When the fog cleared on April 29th two helicopters carried the Tusker group to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. To get the group evacuated, Tusker had laid out $56,000, a cost Amy describes simply as, “the cost of doing business.” Tusker laid out air fares to fly the group to Delhi and onto their final destinations.
When Mel returned to Reno, there were TV crews at the airport to interview her. Now three weeks later the international press has moved on. Nepal is no longer in the news. Yet, Nepal’s earthquake story and its aftermath remain a tragically riveting story for Nepal’s survivors who are trying to make some sense of their current plight and future.
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