Words by: Courteney Lomas
Pictures: Dylan MacLeod
I arrived in Pokhara the day after the earthquake. My original plan was to meet up with my mother, Michelle Lomas, who had been working as a student-nurse there for the past month. I arrived to find she had gone with a team of volunteers to the epicentre, Gorkha. I had anticipated being able to join her in a few days.
She arrived back on Wednesday 29th, where she explained what had happened.
The evening of Sunday 26th KarmaFlights, a paragliding company based in Pokhara, gathered a group of people from all different sectors; the paragliding community, medical volunteers and other people who just wanted to help, to head to Gorkha and provide aid. There was minimal damage in Gorkha City, and no casualties. They continued 3hrs north east to the base of Saurapani village where they established a base camp and set up a medical station where locals started to come as they heard the news.
The next day a group of 15 volunteers trekked for three hours up to Saurapani. The remaining medical and nursing students, including Lomas, provided medical aid to those closer to the base camp,
Lomas talks of the ground continually vibrating as they were trying to assess patients.
“It reminded me of a giant under the earth sleeping. This rumble. This gentle vibration of the ground giving and taking. I could not help but wonder what would happen when [the giant] woke up. It was so unsafe. The people that were there, these women whose houses had pancaked, their husbands weren’t there – I am not sure if they had died, they did not tell us, but they were traumatised and so frightened.”
The main risk now is the aftershocks causing landslides.
Tansy Wilkinson, a British medical student, described ‘rain-soaked land’ and terraces in the village that were “bogged down with rain, there were big cracks forming because of the weight of the mud”.
Lomas adds “We were on a cliff, it was really steep, there were cracks not only in the terraces but in the clay banks too and if it slipped we would just be miles down, it was really unsafe.”
“If we are not prepared to help the people and we wait for the international organisations to come and the political nonsense to finish, how many more people are dead?”
Dylan MacLeod, a medical student from Australia was part of the group that trekked up to Saurapani.
Saurapani is set on the top of a ridge, cliff on either side. The ground was continually falling away from the sides and a gale-force wind was blowing, one of them nearly got blown off the ridge.
MacLeod talks of going into a place where people were just sitting there with glazed, blank vacant expressions on their faces, he would ask them to move their fingers and they were just frozen, they could hardly move.
The team gave out aid as best they could, MacLeod describes treating patients like a machine, finish one and on to the next. The group gave aid to roughly three hundred people in the space of a few hours. At one point in the afternoon they were sheltering from the wind in a school where the walls were all caving out the wrong way.
MacLeod was with four other Nepali and they thought that this was probably going to be the end.
Families are sheltering in animal barns.
Lomas and Wilkinson came across one family that were sleeping alongside four buffalo, some goats, chickens and a monkey. In one village, MacLeod saw the fittest and strongest under the only tarpaulin whilst the weakest were out facing the elements.
Shelter is now the main concern.
Because the earthquake struck at midday, most people were out in the fields working. Children and the elderly remained in the homes and when they collapsed a lot of people died straight away.
A huge percentage of people from some of these villages are dead. Wilkinson estimates that 5% of people have a major injury and 10-15% have a minor injury. Harvest time is approaching which is going to place great strain on the villages, as is the on coming monsoon season.
The KarmaFlights team were the first ones on the ground, and those first few days made a huge difference.
“It was an amazing example of a group of people who came together and we did something completely maverick and brave and scary, we went out there with such little information and tried to do something” Tansy Wilkinson
The question now is where to go from here.
A major problem is access to these villages. It is approximately a five hour journey from Pokhara to their base camp. With limited transportation available and then further trekking needed to access these villages, getting supplies up there is a logistical nightmare. To gauge the extent and scale of the destruction what the larger NGO’s really need is aerial photos of the region.
The government is reluctant to let this happen in case the photos get in to the wrong hands. The situation changes every day so we hope for great progress to be made in the next week.