It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as you might expect from the news.
But the news focuses on the hot spots and misses the ordinary – ending up rather narrow at times.
I don’t mean to undermine the horror and destruction that many other people experienced in the Nepal Earthquake, but I was lucky enough that nothing was traumatic for me.
At first I was completely blasé. Things shook, I was on the 4th and top-level of my hostel – so the entire thing shook. Bit alarming.
When it didn’t stop after what seemed like a few minutes but can’t have been since the whole earthquake was only about 40s. I stood in the doorway. (You are supposed to hide under a strong desk or in the frame of a doorway. No one around me seemed to know that).
After a bit – it stopped. I continued chilling out in my room.
Of course, I’ve felt mini ones at night in NZ, and never bothered to get out of bed. So that may just be me.
It never even occurred to me to go outside. It wasn’t a big enough deal to me. I did after half an hour or so to gossip with some of the less hysterical people gathered there.
To be honest I don’t think it was any safer outside. Unless you are in a massive open area – things will just fall on you. Signs, billboards, loose roofing iron, tiles, bricks etc.
As soon as I went out to join them I objected to standing under power lines – it was not an improvement, it was worse! I persuaded some people to move 10 meters to join the other people in the parking lot.
Some were praying right underneath said potential people fryers, and unfortunately wouldn’t move.
While travelling, I see lots of great things. Humanity is amazing. Sometimes however I despair at their idiocy.
Side note/rant against humanity – If you are ever in an earthquake try to run around like a headless chicken. People swarmed the stairs and twisted ankles, were bowled over by others racing down stairs, stood praying earnestly directly under live power lines, ran out of buildings to hover just outside them where things could fall on them – one person I heard about was bricked in the head doing this …. The list goes on.
I honestly didn’t find the initial earthquake that scary, perhaps because I had at least experienced tiny shakes before. I stood in the doorway. It eventually stopped. I went back to chilling in my room. The end.
Early on the first day; I was more concerned with checking the Instagram feed on my phone while we all sat in the car park after the main event.
And grumpy that everyone shut up their shops so that I couldn’t get lunch. I did try to get it after the quake.
While it is good to be calm, as screaming as crying does nothing remotely useful and only makes you and others more tense and frightened, I felt a bit guilty later about being quite so blase.
I typed a message on Skype to my mother saying ‘Not to worry if an earthquake in Nepal is shown on TV’, ‘because nothing much happened,’ and, ‘it is not as bad as the general hysteria around me would suggest’.
That was probably accurate for the immediate area around my hostel. Nothing much had happened. The building shook and the plaster cracked in a couple of places. That was it.
Another group came back from a temple (one that hadn’t collapsed), practically bouncing because they’d never been in an earthquake before and wasn’t it such a cool experience?
We had no idea that down the road power poles had snapped clean in half, sometimes catching cars.
Or that world heritage sites had been reduced to rubble.
Or that down the road a multi-story building had collapsed. Completely. Rubble left only. And that they were digging to pull bodies out.
Or that thousands of people were dead. Mostly in Nepal, but also in other countries.
When I got bored in the hostel I explored further and found these things. It was a wake up call. It had honestly seemed like not a big deal, that ‘not big deal’ turned out to be ‘the worst earthquake in 80 years’ for Nepal.
It was really hard to know the full-scale of the situation.
It was too new in the beginning for any information to be on the internet, and then when that went out we only had local word of mouth.
People in my hostel were told that 5000 people had died in Kathmandu on the first day, but in reality no one knew anything, no predictions had been made and panicking morons were swapping self-made stories to feel like they did know something.
It was also passed around that the earthquake was 11.5 on the Richter scale – in reality it was 7.8.
Once everyone knew the real measurement, it was still mutilated. I heard that the same earthquake was 9.0 in Pokhara and simultaneously 11 in Chitwan. (There can’t be more than one measure per earthquake).
We were also told that another earthquake was ‘predicted’ for 9pm. This changed to midnight when nothing happened. The last staff member left in the hotel (the rest had escaped home earlier) was terrified and said he was going to the park to sleep.
Some were freaked out by the prediction and left with him. Others called bullshit are refused to move because A – you can’t predict earthquakes and B – if one did hit en route to the park that would be a disaster.
Full disclosure: A contributing factor was that our beds were more comfortable, and our rooms were warmer.
We weren’t moving unless we had to.
At first we stayed on the ground floor where the internet was. Then the power died, so we stayed on the roof scoffing chips, cake, Nutella sandwiches, bananas and playing card games. One musically talented person played the Ukulele.
As the night went on we slowly went to bed. I think I called it quits and went to bed at quarter to 12.
Nothing happened at midnight as predicted, but there were smaller aftershocks at 1am and 5am. Continuing my rant against humanity, the people next door ran out at 5am crying, prayed directly under the power lines again, and even started a fire (to keep warm presumably). If there had actually been another earthquake that was serious for our area, it could have easily spread everywhere.
Thankfully both the hostel and park groups were all fine.
I found the second day harder.
In the morning in particular I felt restless. Power was out, wifi was out, water in our building soon followed. All the shops were closed. Thamel was a forest of grey roller doors. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do – except wait for the next aftershock.
The constant little tremors and occasional actual shakes started to put people on edge.
We started to imagine tremors that (most probably) weren’t there.
“Was that a tremor?” “I don’t feel anything”
“Did you feel that? Oh no – Duggie’s leg was jiggling the table”
“Ah! A real one! Should we run outside?” “Through an unstable shaking building? No”
“Was that one? Oh I don’t even know anymore”.
Being constantly on alert was straining.
People also continued to come back from dubious sources and reporting ‘predicted’ earthquakes (If they could predict earthquakes – they would have predicted the first one!!!), which no matter how calm and logical you want to be automatically puts you on edge – or it did for me anyway
I wished that they’d keep the info to themselves. The aftershocks had become unsettling after a while (I didn’t care at first), but the tensing and sick feeling in my stomach hearing ‘predictions’; and part of me waiting (even though I tried not to) to see if one would actually be true was worse.
Continuing the trend of bullshit – an earthquake twice the size of the original one was ‘predicted’ by what means I don’t know for between 3 and 5 local time on the second day.
Nothing happened. This timeline changed accordingly, but still nothing happened.
It got so ridiculous eventually that the police arrested at least 27 people for spreading rumours of another big predicted quake.
It rained that night, so some of the people at the park came back. After we ate dinner on the roof again and found them later on the bottom floor high on pot and drinking liquor lifted from behind the bar.
Despite almost nothing happening overnight; nerves were still high and hysteria prevailed. The guy who was occasionally there to check the hostel told us that there was now a volcano in Kathmandu.
By this time, my quake buddies and I were all in the same dorm room. We didn’t even sit up in bed (or bother roll over in my case), but promptly decided a tornado was surely also coming. This would bring a whole storm with it, create a sea, and the another tremor would create a tsunami.
There was no volcano in Nepal. The fault line here isn’t even the type the produces volcanoes.
There was however a volcano going off in Chile.
Could you get any further away?
Some idiot probably saw them reported together on the news and didn’t have the brains to look at the report properly.
All we needed was a report of an alien invasion.
Then we’d have everything.
Day three was an improvement. Food was easier to get. We finally found our embassies. I got in the British one by using my Irish passport (They were allowed in for some reason despite not being part of the UK) that I only had because my parents were born in Ireland. I felt like an impostor the entire time.
We partied again that night in our wifiless, powerless, waterless abandoned hostel, telling ghost stories, playing hide and seek using our head lights and in Amanda’s case cooking. Thanks Amanda!!
It is more normal now, in Thamel at any rate. Shops are opening. You can buy expensive food, cashmere sweaters, souvenirs and almost anything you like again.
In other areas closer to the epicentre 90% of buildings in towns have been flattened. There has been no contact at all in some places.
I read that information last night on my smart phone, while sitting with my new hostel friends at a polished table eating a Margarita pizza in restaurant over looking a busy street.
It seemed like a whole world away, no more similar or closer than other disasters have seemed on TV from the comfortable lounge of my parent’s house.
And yet so incredibly weird because it was the same country damn it!
Sometimes I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this devastating horrific earthquake reported on the internet – is the same one I’ve been in.
It still doesn’t seem real.
I was planning to hike the Everest Base Camp Track, but I don’t think I will. They are still looking for about 200 people, and it will be hard enough to repair things at high altitude with poor access without trying to cater to tourists too. Some people have gone to Everest Base camp though, so hopefully there will be just enough people going to put money into the economy up there without stressing everything out.
I’m hoping to join an organisation like All Hands Volunteers and help at least a little. I don’t want to try to volunteer by myself – if people start that it will only add to the chaos and strain resources.
If you want to donate to help Nepal click here.
Have you ever been in a natural disaster? What was your experience?