All pics: Bhrikuti Rai
The Arniko Highway coils eastwards from Kathmandu towards the Chinese border at Kodari. Every settlement, every bazar, every village along the way has been flattened.
In town after town, even ten days after the earthquake hit, people are moving about as if in a daze – trying to dig for dead relatives and belongings. The prosperous and once thriving highway markets have been reduced to mounds of bricks and timber.
Sindhupalchok is the worst hit district, with 3,360 fatalities reported so far, almost half of the official casualties . Sanga Chok is one of the worst hit areas in the district with 160 deaths reported just there alone so far.
“I was saved last Saturday because I managed to run to the field behind my house,” says Prabina Shrestha, standing in front of the debris of her collapsed home. Her friend and her baby were among the five people trapped under her collapsed house. “I don’t see any hope now, we haven’t heard any voices from underneath the rubble,” says Shrestha glancing at the wreckage of her home.
The shaking was so strong at Sanga Chok that both concrete and mud houses have fallen. Further up the street Rama Giri, 32, is climbing up a rickety wooden ladder to get her belongings. “We were fortunate to be outside that day, or else we would have all died,” says Giri watching her elderly mother-in-law throwing fallen bricks outside their room.
Giri was treated at Dhulikhel Hospital for a minor head injury while her seven-year-old son, Samir, youngest of three children, received several stitches on his head after a brick struck him.
“We haven’t received any relief material so far and are running out of food supplies we had managed to gather in the last week,” says Giri. While she feels fortunate to have survived, she is worried about her husband who was in Kathmandu last Saturday. “I haven’t heard from him since the earthquake, our relative who used to work with him has also been unable to find him there,” she says with eyes full of tears.
The Giri family has been taking refuge under a tarpaulin sheet near the road to the district headquarter of Chautara. Locals have gathered in several villages leading up to Sindhupalchok demanding relief materials and swarming any vehicle carrying food supplies and tents. Police have had to intervene to bring the situation under control.
“We have only been surviving on meals provided to us by charities, not even a single tent was given to us,” says Shanti Kumari Shrestha, 55, who has been taking care of her daughter-in-law who gave birth a day before the earthquake. “I am forced to open our shop here so that we at least have some money to buy rice and ghee for the new mother,” says Shrestha, running her frail hands across her seven-year-old grandson’s hair. “How will we survive now,” she sighs, looking out at a street full of collapsed houses, crushed vehicles and power lines dangling dangerously low.
Those made homeless in Chautara have been sleeping in tents provided by the Red Cross at Tundikhel where they get two meals a day. But they are angry that the state has been slow to respond.
“The CDO has been hiding this whole week,” says Kusum Karmacharya whose sister-in-law was buried under their old house. “We were so angry that people took out their angst at the deputy CDO last week and tried hurting him physically, only then did we see some relief effort here, we still don’t have power,” she says.
The situation in the remote VDCs of Sindhupalchok remain even more dire with people still trapped under the debris in many places. Three people were rescued alive in Sindhupalchok on Monday, nine days after the quake.
“My village Gunsa is completely destroyed, people are still waiting for help sleeping out in the open,” says Gyanu Tamang, 28, who sells snacks here to earn some money. “If the situation here is so bleak, you can imagine what it is like in our villages.”
Sindhupalchok CDO Krishna Prasad Gyawali however maintains that relief distribution is in full swing although there are never enough tents. “We are doing our best to get relief to all VDCs,” he says.
Despite the death and despair all around Chautara residents have shown generosity and resilience by opening doors to neighbours and providing food to the needy.
“I couldn’t sit there doing nothing, so I just gave away what I had in my grocery store,” says Porum Bahadur Shrestha.
Colour coded in Dhulikhel
Outside the Dhulikhel Hospital gate in Kavre Samjhana Shrestha lies on a stretcher as the doctor pastes a piece of paper on her right arm with her name, address and marks her ‘orange’. She is then immediately whisked to the emergency room while the other patients marked ‘green’ and ‘yellow’ wait for their turn. The tenth grader from the neighbouring district of Sindhupalchok was brought here on Wednesday to treat injuries she sustained on her head and back after the massive earthquake on Saturday.
“The colour coding helps us identify which victims need the most immediate treatment and function more efficiently,” says Deepak Dahal, administration chief at Dhulikhel Hospital. The limited resources at district hospitals and its proximity to three major highways has made this 300 bed community hospital the default post earthquake care centre for the most badly hit districts like Sindhupalchok, Ramechhap and Dolakha, Sindhuli and even Bhaktapur.
Since Saturday the hospital has received more than 1,000 patients and conducted close to 100 major operations.
“Luckily the hospital wasn’t damaged and we have been able to provide all the essential services from day one despite the three-day power cut,” says physician Rajiv Shrestha.
During the power cuts following the earthquake, the hospital was running on solar and diesel powered generators. But with patients overflowing in emergency and post operation units even this efficient community hospital is worried about failing to provide quality service to hundreds of earthquake victims.
Big hospitals like the 750 bed Nepal Medical College in Kathmandu are turning away patients since they don't have enough tents to treat patients outside their cracked buildings.
“At Dhulikhel we have enough doctors and paramedics but we are running out of stock of essential medicines, surgical materials, and need to add beds and blankets required for so many patients,” adds Shrestha. Volunteer school children in Kathmandu are providing thousands of gauzes for the Dhulikhel Hosptial.
Sabina Lama (pic), 11, complains to her mother Phulmaya about the stitches hurting her head. She was buried under a pile of rubble after the earthquake brought down their house in Helambu. “My daughter luckily survived despite serious head injuries, we know the healing will take time and now I can only hope that she gets the much needed care and medicine in the weeks and months ahead,” says Phulmaya Lama with her youngest son still sleeping on her lap.
Jure’s second disaster
A rockfall triggered by Saturday’s earthquake destroyed the new house Lanka Tamang (pic, above) had built after the massive landslide here in August.
In less than eight months the 21-year-old has seen his life torn asunder twice: first by the Jure landslide and now by the earthquake. The landslide killed at least 150 people and displaced hundreds of families who have since been living in makeshift tents and sought refuge at nearby villages.
Now, the two disasters have collapsed into one. Those living in shelters without much help from the first disaster have to cope with a bigger one.
“Our families have been displaced again and there has been no help from the authorities here,” says Tamang whose extended family of 17 has been forced to share few tents with 55 others along the highway overlooking the large pond created by landslide last monsoon.
Tamang dropped out of school to take care of his family and work as a driver. Now even that job doesn’t pay because the highway has been blocked by landslides.
The family has had enough of disasters and is now planning to move permanently to Kathmandu in the coming weeks.
Needed: A Marshall Plan, Editorial
Life after deaths, Om Astha Rai
Rising from the rubble, Anurag Acharya
Learning from disasters, Vinod Thomas
Shaking things up, Editorial
Bright lights on a dark day, Mark Zimmerman
Aftershocks in a migrant economy, Mallika Aryal