Monday 29 May 2017

Nepal Earthquake: 'Everything is destroyed ...it's just too big to take in'

Irish Independent reporter Jason O’Brien and photographer Mark Condren travel to the epicentre of the quake in Nepal

Phama Basnet who house was destroyed in the Nepal earthquake in the Gorkha district. Photo: Mark Condren
Phama Basnet who house was destroyed in the Nepal earthquake in the Gorkha district. Photo: Mark Condren
Paul Greenan who is on his way on his way back to Ireland from Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
A Family makes its way by bus out of Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
Crowds of people at a bus stop trying to make their way out of Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
A woman brings food back to her family after house was destroyed in the Nepal earthquake in the Gorkha district. Photo: Mark Condren
A girl caries her friend after the Nepal earthquake in the Gorkha district. Photo: Mark Condren
A young man takes a brake while his brother takes over from clearing rubble from their family home after it was destroyed in the Nepal earthquake in the Gorkha district. Photo: Mark Condren
Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

THE epicentre of last week's earthquake was located in the north of Gorkha district, but the fate of between 5,000 and 10,000 people living there is still unknown.

International relief workers and the Nepalese government are increasingly - some would argue belatedly - focusing on the region, but remain severely hampered by landslides, electricity and communications outages, and the towering presence of Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world.

It is estimated that 2,000 families may live in the remote villages which border Tibet.

"We just don't know about deaths or injuries because we've had very limited contact," one Gorkha district official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday. "We are doing all we can."

Among the areas of concern are the Barpak valley and Laprak, which are about 10km from the epicentre.

The limited - and unconfirmed - information gleaned largely from helicopter flyovers is that entire villages have been knocked down.

Yesterday, army helicopters were ferrying aid into the region - and bringing sick people out.

Among those observing the aid drops were the residents of a tiny townland a further 10km from the epicentre - but accessible by road.

Or perhaps Khatel Danda, which roughly translates as 'Top of the Hill', would more accurately be considered as a 'former' townland.

The place was decimated in a few short minutes on Saturday, just before noon.

The Mount Everest south base camp in Nepal is seen a day after a huge earthquake-caused avalanche killed at least 17 people, in this photo courtesy of 6summitschallenge.com taken on April 26, 2015 and released on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/6summitschallenge.com
The Mount Everest south base camp in Nepal is seen a day after a huge earthquake-caused avalanche killed at least 17 people, in this photo courtesy of 6summitschallenge.com taken on April 26, 2015 and released on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/6summitschallenge.com
A Nepalese boy talks on a mobile phone near a damaged minaret of a mosque in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Tourists from Vietnam access the Internet from their mobile phones while waiting for their flight at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
National Disaster Response Force from Indian paramilitary force works to recover the dead bodies from a collapsed house after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Tourists stand in front of the Departure gate of Tribhuvan International Airport as they wait for their flight after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
An Indian woman cries as she waits to take a flight back to her country after an earthquake at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
A girl cries as her family takes refuge at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Tourists wait to board their flights at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Tourists wait to board their flights at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
A tourist from the Netherlands waiting for her flight sleeps in a sleeping bag at Tribhuvan International Airport after returning from the Everest Base in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
An Australian tourist reads a book as she waits for her flight at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
People sleep on the ground in an open area on early morning after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
An earthquake victim carries her baby on her back as she stands outside her makeshift shelter on open ground in the early hours in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A man prays next to rubble of a temple, destroyed in Saturday's earthquake, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A prayer bell is seen on top of the rubble of a damaged temple after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Royal Thai Air Force personnel load food and relief supplies for Nepal at the military airport in Bangkok, Thailand, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Thai Armed Forces medical team walk to a C-130 cargo plane at the military airport in Bangkok, Thailand, April 28, 2015. The Royal Thai Armed Forces sent 67 medical and rescue personnel to assist the earthquake victims in Nepal, according to The Royal Thai Armed Forces authorities. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Thai Armed Forces rescue team prepare to board a C-130 cargo plane at the military airport in Bangkok, Thailand, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
People sleep inside a makeshift shelter on open ground, early morning after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
In this April 27, 2015 photo, locals watch rescue teams try to remove the body of a 12-year-old girl from a collapsed home in Kathmandu, Nepal. A strong earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley on Saturday. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
People sit on the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal in this Red Cross handout picture taken on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/IFRC/Palani Mohan/Handout via Reuters
In this April 27, 2015 photo, rescue teams search for bodies in the collapsed Sitapyla church in Kathmandu, Nepal. A strong earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley on Saturday. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
An earthquake victim carries her baby on her back as she stands outside her makeshift shelter on open ground in the early hours in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Tents are set up in an open area near multi-storey buildings following an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal in this Red Cross handout picture taken on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/IFRC/Palani Mohan/Handout via Reuters
People gather on a road as traffic is affected by a landslide caused by an earthquake, in Kurintar, Nepal April 27, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
The Mount Everest south base camp in Nepal is seen a day after a huge earthquake-caused avalanche killed at least 17 people, in this photo courtesy of 6summitschallenge.com taken on April 26, 2015 and released on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/6summitschallenge.com
Video taken from a drone Saturday April 25 2015 shows devastation in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, caused by Saturday's quake that measured 7.8 on the Richter Scale. (AP Photo / KISHNOR RANA)
Nepalese carry the body of their relative killed in the recent earthquake for cremation at the Pashupatinath temple, on the banks of Bagmati river, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo / Manish Swarup)
Nepalese people affected by the recent earthquake queue to receive food from a non governmental organization, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo / Manish Swarup)
Nepalese soldiers carry a wounded man on a makeshift stretcher to a waiting Indian air force helicopter as they evacuate victims of Saturdays earthquake from Trishuli Bazar to Kathmandu airport in Nepal, Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Mina Kattel is rummaging through what remains of her house, trying to salvage what she can.

"First I ran, then I turned and watched. As I looked, the one to my left went first, then the one to the right of that, then the next and then mine. They went in sequence, and so quickly."

She pulls a piece of red fabric, which may have been a curtain, free from under a brick.

Before Saturday's earthquake, the view from her bedroom window - of the lush, verdant Gorkha valley from 1,500 metres - must have been truly breathtaking.

Today, that view is a barely an afterthought for her, or for the first relief workers to examine Khatel Danda.

All their senses are instead focused on negotiating the treacherous piles of rubble, brick, smashed furniture, sharp slates, and mangled plumbing which now seems to occupy all the groundspace not filled by makeshift tents.

Of the 80 homes here, just four remain standing.

Most of the houses that almost instantly collapsed were quite basic, built using mud, brick and stone. Those in the more remote villages will have been the same - the major question now is whether residents there will have been as 'lucky' as those in Khatel Danda on Saturday.

"I don't understand how no one was killed, and we are thankful for that," Ms Kattel, a mother-of-three, says quietly. "But we have lost everything and we have got no help, nothing, no one has come. One kilo of rice and some clothes is not a help when you have no electricity. That is not a rescue, but it would be a start," she says.

People walk past a building that was damaged in an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
People walk past a building that was damaged in an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
A group of people gather outdoors as an earthquake hits Kathmandu city, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Debris lie at Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Rescuers look for victims under a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers work to remove debris at the historic Dharahara tower, a city landmark, after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers work to remove debris at the historic Dharahara tower, a city landmark, after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
People gather in an intersection near a damaged building in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/Tashi Sherpa)
Climbers and guides carry an injured after an avalanche struck Everest Base Camp in Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. An avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake in Nepal smashed into a base camp between the Khumbu Icefall, a notoriously treacherous rugged area of collapsed ice and snow, and the base camp where most climbing expeditions are, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. (AP Photo/Pasang Dawa Sherpa)
This photo provided by Azim Afif shows the scene after an avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake swept across Everest Base Camp, Nepal on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Afif and his team of four others from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) all survived the avalanche. (Azim Afif via AP)
In this photo provided by Azim Afif a man approaches the scene after an avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake swept across Everest Base Camp, Nepal on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Afif and his team of four others from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) all survived the avalanche. (Azim Afif via AP)
Rescuers clear the debris at Durbar Sqaure after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
A Nepalese man stands with his dog as rescue workers remove debris at Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Rescuers remove debris at the historic Dharahara tower, a city landmark, after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
A school student receives treatment at a hospital after he was injured in an earthquake in Motihari, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, Saturday, April 25, 2015. Officials say dozens have been killed and more injured in India in a powerful earthquake that struck neighboring Nepal. (Press Trust of India via AP) INDIA OUT
REFILE - ADDING ADDITIONAL INFORMATION People work to rescue trapped people inside a temple in Bashantapur Durbar Square after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Rescue workers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The 7.9 magnitude powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar TEMPLATE OUT
A boy smiles as he is rescued from a collapsed house after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
An excavator digs the rubble to search for the bodies after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Rescue workers search for bodies as a stretcher is kept ready after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
A woman cries as her son was trapped inside a collapsed house after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
People rest on debris at Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)

The village is a priority, according to officials, but lots of areas in Gorkha district are 'a priority'.

The scenic region - home to many who would have formed the backbone of the British army's Gurkha regiments - has a population of 360,000, and it has been worst hit in terms of physical damage.

Gorkha's death toll of about 400 is also expected to rise sharply as more information is finally received from its outer reaches.

Its capital, Gorkha Bazaar, escaped the worst of the quake, but with the UN now estimating that eight million of Nepal's 28 million residents have been affected by the quake, it is unsurprising to find victims too.

The long-term psychological impact of the disaster - much like the situation in Barpak and Laprak - remains unknown but ominous. "Everything was destroyed ... my husband is in hospital with head injuries but it's not that ..." Phama Basnet, a diminutive woman in her 40s, starts before trailing off.

She feels that Rapubabu (45) will be okay physically in a short time after their home was destroyed, but is nonetheless very worried.

"He has spent his lifetime earning for this, this home was his joy," she says. "Now he is traumatised. It is too big for him to take in, to deal with. He's not strong enough."

And he is not alone in struggling to deal with major problems - and find solutions, fast.

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