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Deceived and dead

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Om Astha Rai

Puni Ram Acharya, a 48-year-old farmer from the mid-western district of Pyuthan, was expecting a telephone call from Qatar early this week. His 21-year-old son, Resham, was to fly to Qatar to join a job as a construction worker just a week before the deadly earthquake rattled central Nepal on 25 April.

Puni Ram waits for rescuers to recover his son's body from under the debris of a collapsed hotel building in Gongabu, Kathmandu. Photo by Om Astha Rai

Puni Ram waits for rescuers to recover his son’s body from under the debris of a collapsed hotel building in Gongabu, Kathmandu. Photo by Om Astha Rai

“I thought my son was already in Qatar,” he says. “And I was hoping he would call me after beginning work there.”

But Resham’s flight was cancelled and the recruiting agency kept him at a hotel in a narrow alley near Gongabu bus park in Kathmandu. Resham had not told his family about his flight being cancelled and Puni Ram had already started to dream about a better future.

When the earthquake struck, the five-storey Palpa-Butwal Guest House where Resham was staying, went down. Puni Ram did not get a call from his son even after the earthquake, and thought that was odd. He asked the manpower agency about his son.

Three days after the earthquake, Puni Ram found out that his son had not reached Qatar and was, instead, staying at a hotel in Gongabu.  He travelled 12 hours by bus and came to Kathmandu, along with his wife, Khima, on Thursday morning. They booked a small room in one of the few hotels that had not collapsed but had cracks from the earthquake.

Puni Ram's son is believed to be under the rubble of this collapsed building. Photo by Om Astha Rai

Puni Ram’s son is believed to be under the rubble of this collapsed building. Photo by Om Astha Rai

After they saw the rubble of the collapsed Palpa Butwal Guest House, Puni Ram and Khima gave up hope that their son would be found alive. Khima has not been able to eat anything and is sleeping in the guest house, desperate to hear the news about her son.

Puni Ram has been waiting near the collapsed building waiting for a rescue team of Nepal Army and Armed Police Force to pull out his son’s body.

“When the rescuers pull out some people alive, I hope they would find my son, too,” he says. “But I lose hope when I see bodies wrapped in black plastic sheets everywhere.”

Resham is Puni Ram’s second son. His older one is physically disabled and the youngest is studying in ninth grade. “Resham was the source of all my hope,” he says. “I thought he would help me by earning money in Qatar.”

Puni Ram used up all his savings and took a loan  to pay Rs 83,000 to Life Line Overseas, a Gongabu-based manpower company, through which Resham was going to Qatar.

“In Kathmandu, I inquired and found out that the manpower company did not have a labour permit, that was why my son couldn’t get on the flight,” he says. “But my son did not share the bad news with me because he didn’t want to worry us. Instead he became the victim of this tragedy.”

More than 50 bodies have been recovered so far from buildings in Gongabu. Rescuers have pulled out three people alive from beneath the rubble of collapsed houses more than 80 hours after the earthquake.

The part of Kathmandu’s Ring Road that goes by Gongabu’s bus park is dotted with tall hotel buildings where mostly Nepali migrant workers spend a few nights before flying abroad or heading towards their villages after returning to the country.the landlords build the hotels for cheap with weak foundations since they don’t live there themselves.

Deputy Inspector General of Armed Police Force Narayan Thapa says they still need at least a week to recover all bodies.

Sanju Sharma of National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET)-Nepal was observing the collapsed structures in Gongabu area on Friday. “Most of the buildings that collapsed here had weak pillars,” he says. “Building code seems to have been violated.”

Also read:

The earthquake from above

Monumental loss

Shaking things up

Mapping the aftermath

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