Home At the Epicentre – A Diary of the Nepal Earthquake

At the Epicentre – A Diary of the Nepal Earthquake

by Roop Jyoti
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On April 25, 2015 a massive earthquake shook up Kathmandu, the densely populated capital of Nepal, and many other towns and villages in the hills. Repeated tremors, hundreds of them, some quite strong, followed, and they continued. Huge destruction took place with thousands losing their lives. Whole villages were demolished with no houses left standing. IIT Alumnus, Dr. Roop Jyoti was in the middle of all this. He sent several updates to fellow classmates who had sent emails expressing concern. We print extracts from his emails to give readers a sense what went on and how the future looks.

Day 1
25th April 2015

Devastation

Image source: http://www.amerikaninsesi.com/media/photogallery/2739517.html’

I was conducting a 10-day Exec course at Dharmashringa. It was day 1 and Metta session was just over. Everyone had lunch and were talking to each other. Then the earthquake struck. It was nothing like anyone of us had seen in our life time. The shaking was very strong and very long, went on and on. Some of the walls connecting the pillars supporting the pagoda collapsed making the structure vulnerable. Otherwise, no major damage to centre buildings. Speakers fell down and walls and ceiling plasters cracked and chipped off. No one was in a proper frame of mind for the course to continue. We had a tough time sending students back home but we managed. I will have to call the students back so that they can listen to the remaining discourses.

Back in the city, learnt about the devastation that had been caused. My family and property are safe but there are repeated earthquakes with shifting epicentre, not just aftershocks. Electricity is cut off as a precaution but due to frequent prolonged load shedding at normal times we are somewhat prepared for that.

The tremors are still continuing every 2-3 hours, last strong one was 6.7! We are staying in the open as a precaution as advised. We hope this will end soon but don’t know when.

You probably have more access to news than we have. We have no power and TV! The destruction is staggering. Apart from many old buildings, many monuments and temples have fallen down. Some villages near the epicentre have no buildings standing. Many people have lost their lives.

The short and long term consequences are yet to be seen and faced but India and China are sending help in a big way. That should really help. Hopefully, it will end by tomorrow?! This is the situation here.

Day 2
26th April 2015

We are okay physically. Our buildings appear okay, too, but some damages may be there. Yet to be assessed properly. Much devastation in Katmandu & Nepal, many killed, many more injured. Main trouble is earthquakes still keep coming, quite strong ones too, apart from aftershocks. Much fear and panic among people. Consequences like proper place to stay, water, food yet to be faced. No electric supply as a precaution. Let us see how situation develops.

Day 3

Today is Day 3 of the earthquakes.

There were two tremors early morning today, intensity around 4.5 and the duration much shorter. So far, none after that. People are moving about and if it stays like this tonight, normal activities may resume tomorrow. Coming days are going to be very challenging, though. People, organizations and institutions are going to need much help in the short term and in the long term for the rebuilding and for restoring normal activities. Personal and economic losses have to be overcome. But I hope a new and stronger Nepal emerges from this.

Day 4

Okay, here’s today’s update.

First, the electricity came back around 5 pm or so, I am on my computer and I don’t have to communicate only through my mobile phone.

The earthquakes here have caused severe destruction and disruption. Most people still continue to spend nights in the open, outside of their houses. (Even my brother’s family wouldn’t listen to me. They have been sleeping in their cars!) There have been so many aftershocks. They are really scared. Some for good reason as their houses have suffered serious damages, others just out of plain fear. Offices have not started to function.

Hardly anyone is reporting for work. We had a meeting at Jyoti Bhawan (our head office) this morning. Only a handful of people were there. No nurses reported for duty (we have a clinic and hospital too at Jyoti Bhawan). But we requested everyone to come to work tomorrow and to resume activities. They have to clean up and put their place of work back in order. Drawers are open, furniture, fixtures and equipment have shifted or have been overturned. Papers and other items are on the floor. I hope more people will turn up – although I can see that it is rather difficult to come to work when you are not able to enter your own house, leave aside sleep there at night.

Personal and economic losses have to be overcome. But I hope a new and stronger Nepal emerges from this.

Last night at 10 pm, I was writing that there had been no aftershocks for the whole day and so people would gain confidence. But, just then, a big tremor came! There were a few tremors at night also. So, this morning, people were back to being jittery. Today, there have been no tremors throughout the day. (Actually, I felt one jerk at 5 pm and another about an hour later, but most people didn’t feel them). If the night passes without any big tremors, that will be really good. Let us see.

Relief camp

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org / wikipedia/commons /2/2f/Earthquake_Nepal_2015_07.JPG

Nepal is facing a calamity of unknown proportions. This is a catastrophe which has and will affect all in Nepal, small and big. For some, it is both personal and physical loss but for many it is going to be a hard-to-surmount economic loss. This situation has the potential to shake up the basic foundation of the country, both social and economic, if not handled properly. I know that Nepal can spring back from this disaster but for that, much skillful handling is going to be needed. For now, I can only hope for the best. Once normalcy returns, I am bound to get real busy. Maybe a short final update then. Goodnight from Kathmandu and all the best wishes, too.

Day 5

Good morning! It’s 4:30 am here.

Electricity had come back yesterday at 5 pm so I sat on my computer and wrote an update at around 11 pm before retiring. I checked just now and found that it did not get sent. Apparently, there was no internet connection from the provider. If it doesn’t get sent in another 3 hrs, I will retype it on my mobile and send. Quickly though, it looks like there were no tremors through the night. That’s a good indication. Hopefully people will return to their normal lives today.

They are really scared. Some for good reason as their houses have suffered serious damages, others just out of plain fear.

A few days later 

By now or very soon you would have heard of another strong earthquake here in Nepal. So, before you or anyone else start worrying, let me say that we are all fine, the family, all in my office and hospital and all the people I know. The buildings we are in, are fine too. Some more cracks in the walls or on the floors would be discovered tomorrow but that is expected, we won’t be overly concerned — just something additional to be taken care of, when the repairs start!

Once again, the tremors came during daytime on a clear day. This itself would have saved many lives and casualties. There have been so many tremors in the past weeks, that people had stopped giving them much importance, just saying, “oh, another one” and go on doing whatever they had been doing. They would check later and say, “this one was more than 5 or that was 4.3” and like that. The intensity had been declining but in terms of frequency, one day there would be just one or none and the next day maybe four or five. Tremors had been accepted as normal, just like rain and storm. All this has become part of life here!

This one started slowly and when everyone thought it would or should stop, the earth kept on shaking and then some more. That made people start running out into the open. Some walked out calmly or even stayed put wherever they were but some were terrified and stricken with fear and started shouting or crying. I think it lasted a little over half a minute. I was discussing a few points on the ground floor at the entrance of my building. We were planning about the arrangements to be made for the final concluding part of Vipassana Course which I was conducting and which had remained unfinished when the big earthquake had come.

Rescue work

Image credit: Image is sourced from http://www.amerikaninsesi.com/media/photogallery/2739517.html

After the first tremor subsided, people remained in one place. All had gained the wisdom that aftershocks would come. And they came. First one about 10 minutes later and lasted long too, then after a while, maybe 15 minutes, another one and after a longer interval, another one but less strong. After waiting in the open for about two hours and after several aftershocks, people decided it was okay to move around. They had made phone calls (the mobile networks worked this time also!) and had checked whereabouts of their family members and nearly everyone had found that their families were safe. All the people I was in contact with and also those whom I contacted later reported that their families were fine.

Of course, there are unfortunate ones, quite a few of them, I hear. Mostly in the hills or in the vulnerable parts of the country where the previous series of tremors had made the houses weak or on the verge of collapsing.

Landslides are also reported. I would guess that even in the Kathmandu Valley, many buildings might have collapsed or suffered serious damages but these would be the older weaker structures. We will come to know the extent of damages tomorrow or the day after. 

The sad part now is that fear has returned in the minds of the people, just when things were beginning to get normal. There are going to be many, hundreds if not thousands, who will spend the night tonight in the open and maybe for some more days. Normalization of daily life and business will also get slowed down. But I hope that people will handle this earthquake better than the last one. After all, the last few weeks have been kind of training in “Living with Earthquakes”!

The unpredictability of earthquakes keep haunting people and this unknown factor creates fear. I hope there will not be more tremors today or tomorrow or if there are any, fewer and of declining intensity. I see that there have been 11 aftershocks and in the beginning the intensity was around 5 and it has now gone down to 4.2 and 4.3. (the first one, the earthquake, was 7.4!)

1 comment

Sudhir Sharma September 25, 2015 - 9:33 pm

We can’t even imagine what hardships the people of Nepal have gone through during and after the devastating earthquake though this article gives some idea to all of us who have never experienced even a mild earthquake let alone this monstrous one. I hope the situation is improving and people are getting help from various sources though their life will never be the same!! Kudos to the author Roop Jyoti, our IITB Alum, for leading efforts to help the people.

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