This will not be a technical post. I just wanted to put down some of my experiences since a magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit Nepal seven days ago. As a sign that some form of catharsis is needed, the pigeons on my roof gave me a panic attack this morning: I mis-heard their strutting and scrapping as the start of another earthquake…
25 April 2015
It was a normal Saturday morning. I had taken the boys to gymnastics at the British School, and taken the opportunity to play with Mera in the playground. Shelley was at the Summit Hotel for the Dutch holiday King’s Day, and was selling off our used children’s clothing to raise funds for the construction of a public playground. I had forgotten to bring my own set of keys, so after gymnastics we hopped on our bikes and headed over to the Summit to find Shelley and get her keys. I talked with a few friends in the garden on our way in, and we wandered over to find Shelley.
Exactly what I was doing when the quake struck I don’t remember. But it didn’t take more than half a second to realize that this was *the big one* we had been expecting. I tried to get over to my kids to get them down on the ground, but found I couldn’t walk. The ground didn’t move in waves (I remember being a bit disappointed in the middle of my panic): it felt more like being shaken back and forth, not rapidly but almost drunkenly. I watched the trees swing above us, I saw the nearby 6-story apartment building sway and wondered if it would fall, and I listened to the cracks and groans of the earth compete with screams of panic as people came running into the courtyard. I huddled with the kids on the ground until the shaking stopped. I don’t know how long that took, though some people say it was a minute.
The rest of that afternoon is a blur. People who had been standing near the pool were completely soaked by a swimming pool tsunami that left the pool half empty [edit: new video]. The water left in the pool sloshed around like a giant aquatic seismometer. I ordered and ate momo’s (Nepalese dumplings) from the mobile momo stand set up for King’s Day. There were more strong aftershocks that sent people into fresh panics (15 earthquakes (!) occurred within three hours of the big one, and the USGS says that 63 shakes have occurred in the last week). The kids were definitely alarmed as we cowered with each aftershock, but in between they ran around, or coloured with the crayons and paper that some amazing volunteers handed out.
I eventually took my bike and headed back to the house. I needed to grab our “go bag”, which contained passports and a few other essentials. The streets were full of people and toppled brick walls. Two of the houses in our lane had buckled and cracked but not collapsed. Our Nepali neighbours were sitting outside listening to the radio. Our house was also still standing, though the chimneys had come down and some of the loose slate tiles on roof had slid off (a good reminder to not to run outside in an earthquake). I unlocked the front door and went into the house, heart pounding as the earthquake alarm was ringing constantly. The whole valley seemed to resonate from the initial quake and strong aftershocks, and it was distilled into the high-pitch ringing of the alarm. All our open shelves had been emptied. Smashed glasses, books, and coffee grinds from the toppled french press covered the floors.
Still wearing my bike helmet, I grabbed what I needed and left, shutting the door in a state of panic. We spent that evening (and the past week as well) at our friends house, camped out in the garden. Our house has sat empty since the earthquake, though I’ve been back to finally clean those Saturday morning dishes.