22-28 May 2015 #759

They came, they saw, they left

One month after the earthquake, the people of Sankhu are still in a state of shock
Anurag Acharya in SANKHU

Standing over the rubble of her house Sarita Malla points out to her husband a barely visible piece of furniture buried underneath a pile of bricks. He moves to the spot, starts digging with a shovel and after few minutes pulls out a small tea table.

Three weeks after the devastating earthquake with no organised help reaching this town 10km east of Kathmandu, Sankhu residents are fending for themselves, salvaging every bit of useful item from the debris of their home.

Photo: Anurag Acharya

Over 150 people were killed in this old Newar settlement, and although all the missing have now been recovered, some like Sanu Kaji Dangol, believe there are still bodies under the rubble.

“It was a Saturday and there were quite a few door-to-door salesmen, repair man who had come from the city,” says Dangol.

Further ahead, Surendra Shrestha, has managed to dig out a cabinet and is moving it to his tent with a friend. Nearby, an elderly woman is sifting through the ruins of a house, and turns away when she sees people approaching.

The house belonged to Suraj Shrestha whose entire family was buried under the rubble when the house collapsed. Only Suraj and his father Purna Bahadur survived. They now live in a shack by the banks of Shali River. 

Tara Shrestha considers herself lucky to have escaped unhurt. She saved her life by jumping off the third floor of her house. Although she feels blessed that her family is safe, she doesn’t have anything left.

“Everything we had is gone, how do we live?” she says, pointing at the ruins. Everybody in the densely populated Chalakhu Tol has a heartbreaking story to tell.

The town received lot of national and international attention during the first week following last month’s earthquake. People poured in with relief and volunteers came by the hundreds. But looking around the village today, it is clear the help wasn’t enough. While some families sleep inside big, sturdy looking relief tents, there are others who are under makeshift tents made of flimsy plastic.

“The rich and powerful in the area managed to get tents from Chinese and Korean relief workers,” says Hira Devi Dangol (pic) and breaks down. Dangol’s family has been camping under a borrowed plastic sheet with three other families.

Only a small team of Canadian relief workers remain in the area, clearing a stone spout so that people in the tents have drinking water.

“All credit to the Nepal Army guys who located the spout under the debris,” says Master Corporal Matthew Griffin. The main access into the town, which had been cleared by Nepal Army personnel was once again blocked when a house that had been damaged in the earlier quake collapsed following the 12 May aftershock.

So near to the capital, and yet so far, the people of Sankhu are still in a daze, waiting for emergency relief. They haven’t even started thinking about rebuilding their homes.

Read also:

The pain of the living, Devaki Bista

Physically challenged again, Anurag Acharya

As remote as Kathmandu

Microcosm of a calamity, Cynthia Choo and Sonia Awale

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