THE DAY THE EARTH SHOOK

By Umesh Shrestha ‘@Salokya’

We had just finished the Saturday show of `Resham Filili’. I was heading on a scooter towards the Pahilopost Office from the Jaya Nepal theatre. My wife was with me. Just before we reached the office, however, we were rocked by the earthquake. At first, I was calm. Surely, it wouldn’t last long. I didn’t even turn off the scooter’s engine; nor did I put it on a stand. I was supporting it on my legs as my wife looked on. Five seconds passed, and then more; the shaking continued….

The Yak and Yeti hotel, outside of the office, is banked by a number of shops, mostly targeted towards the tourists. One of the shopkeepers urged me to get off the scooter and come close to him. My wife finally shut off the engine as the shaking continued. We left the scooter and walked towards the shop. We sat down, as we could not even stand straight. The expertly decorated dummies on the shop started falling off. The tremors continued still…

Shaking continues and I managed couple of tweets.

I thought about my house. What might have happened? Dust started teeming from the hotel gate as the tremor finally stopped. Surely, a lot of buildings must have been damaged.

As I was mulling the possible impact of the earthquake, my coworker Manoj Satyal came out of the office with his camera. I usually carry my camera and laptop with me. But that fateful day, I was there to watch a movie; I had none. I urged Manoj to tour the city with me to assess the overall impact. He had crouched himself under a chair during the earthquake. “My house is destroyed; my father wants me to come”, he was telling me. I, somehow, convinced him to join me on the scooter as we headed towards Durbarmarg.

People had started flocking on into the streets. The tempo stand at Ratnapark was the first evidence of destruction for us. Vehicles were still running in the street. The road between Ratnapark and Botahiti was filled with onlookers. The part of Darbar high school facing bhotahiti was severely damaged. This was the second major destruction that we witnessed.

Right then, another tremor rocked us. I tried in vain to tweet through my phone although Manoj managed to shoot some video.

Where is Dharahara??

Manoj then offered me to take the pictures while he would drive the scooter. I obliged and took the camera from him. We were not sure where we were going. We headed towards the old buspark. The Nepal Electricity Authority building had been somewhat damaged. I took some picture and then we headed towards Shahid gate. “What!! There’s no Dharahara, Manoj”, I cried with trepidation. He didn’t believe me. “Look over there”, I said.

“Oh! you are right”, Manoj said with disbelief, clearly shaken by the view.

I left Manoj at the Chowk and moved towards Dharahara to get a first-hand assessment. The place was crowded with people. The mighty tower had fragmented from the base itself. As it was a Saturday, many people were said to be visiting the tower. I took some pictures and moved to the site.

People were all trying to rescue individuals from the ruins. I saw Nagarik daily journalist Keshav Thoker. Although his legs were injured from the earthquake, he was taking pictures. “Ason has been destroyed”, he told me referencing a police officer he had spoken with.

I was stunned by the scene from the Khichapokhari aspect of the tower. Dharahara was in pieces. There were only locals doing the relief operation; I didn’t see a single police or military personnel. “Move out from there!”, Keshav cried, “The base may fall off at any moment”.

A woman was rescued alive from the debris. I couldn’t stay there for long. Later, I came to know that around 150 people had bought tickets to Dharahara that fateful day. I decided to go to Ason. As I was walking towards Sundhara chowk, another tremor rocked us – a big one in itself. People were exasperated and overwhelmed; some were in tears. “Don’t worry. Nothing has happened.” I was trying to console others not knowing where I had got that strength. A motorcyclist lay off his bike on the road and sat down with us. I saw terror in the eyes of an old woman; she was wearing a crimson dress adorned with `Ram-nam’. I tried to console her as well; I didn’t have guts to take a picture.

As I couldn’t locate Manoj, I went ahead on my own. The entrance to Tundikhel was damaged. People were walking in the streets, terrified and distraught. A sense of horror and panic was palpable. I reached New road; people were visibly alarmed there as well.

I called Rishikesh; he was safe at Bhrikutimandap. I had left my wife at Pahilopost office. All were safe at home, she called in.

I was heading towards Basantapur. New road seemed okay. Parts of Basantapur Nine-storey palace and Hanumandhoka were damaged. An ambulance carrying a victim was moving towards Jhhochen. I helped clear off the road ahead.

Durbar Square

As I reached Kumarighar, I found myself in tears. I had always revelled in the ancient temples at Durbar square; they were now in ruins. Kumarighar was somehow unaffected. The sight of devastation would bring tears to anybody’s eyes. Even now, I cannot hold back just reminiscing the scene. I had never imagined this would ever happen. The gajurs lay on the ground. The famed Pagoda style temples had turned to dust. People were still trying to find individuals from among the ruins.

I met a visibly relieved person. He had managed to save himself. He was donating blood earlier in the day. “Where?” I asked him.

“Kasthamandap!”, he replied.

OH! Kasthamandap was completely destroyed. I took some pictures; my mind was elsewhere. I wore the camera over my neck and tried to join the group of people who had spontaneously started trying to dig up and rescue individuals. There were tourists, foreigners. They had joined in the effort. “A lot of people are trapped inside.”, they were telling me. However, we were not able to do much. We were trying to throw off bricks and wood with our bare hands.


I lent my hands in removing large wooden structures. People had gathered in a single file and were helping each other clear off the debris. We were doing our best but we could not do much just with our hands. Suddenly, Kasthamandap gajur came into view.

A middle-aged man was crying for water. He was in shock, not even able to walk. Somebody handed him a bottle of water. I tried to support him as he seemed ready to collapse. “Don’t shoot any pictures.”, a man was trying to warn me; maybe seeing the camera around my neck. “Nobody is taking any pictures here.”, I shot back. I tried to console the middle-aged man and took him to a calmer place.

A man had been trapped in the wreckage of a house near Kumarighar. People had spontaneously started clearing off the debris. “Let’s stay in line.” I passed on a brick and wood from a woman in front of me to a foreigner behind. We were doing our best. A helicopter could be seen flying in the sky. But no official rescue personnel were in sight. “Don’t just stand there, help !.”, we were urging others to join in the effort.

I had shunned my obligation as a journalist for a duty as a human being. But, I was a journalist nevertheless. After spending some time in the rescue operation, I went towards Hanumandhoka. Except for the Krishna Mandir, other structures seemed intact. I started tweeting from the site. I bowed to Kalbhairav idol. I would never do it in the past but today was different.

I called my friend Ujjwal at Kaushaltar. I reported the situation from the site. The newly built six-lane road at Bhaktapur had cracked from the quake, he was telling me.

Kishore Nepal, the veteran journalist, called me. I repeated my account of Basantapur. Keltole was relatively okay. The old buildings had managed to stay erect. Ason was not as badly affected as I had initially feared. The houses were weakened but intact. As I was trying to tweet from there, someone was yelling at me to move out from there, warning that the houses could fall off at any moment. I ran towards Annapurna Mandir aghast with my stupidity.


An unattended motorcycle was lying in the street between Ason and Jamal. The buildings there were relatively intact. I was looking for a pharmacy to buy some medicines my wife needed. Nothing was open. Dead silence, everywhere.

The alley between Ratnapark and Bhotahit were lined up with dead bodies, a result from severe crush injuries. I helped load them into a truck.

People were getting treated outside of Bir Hospital. Some were trying to provide security to the area by surrounding the area in a ring. Saline infusion was taking place in the street. People were dying even as they were receiving treatment. The situation was horrific. People were crying in fits. Only a single pharmacy was open outside of the hospital.

Because of the repeated tremors, my wife was with her friends near Durbarmarg statue, outside of the office. My friend Angad Dhakal’s camera was thrown off and rendered useless by agitated individuals. Another tremor rocked us while we were there. We decided to stay in the street. It felt as if somebody was constantly trying to knock us off from underneath.

After a while, we uploaded some video from the office. Manoj and Sabin were stationed at Home ministry. We were getting initial briefing from them.


We were updating constantly before the battery began to die down. 300-400 people were apparently buried at the Balaju Buspark.

Balaju

Angad and I decided to go to Balaju. The guesthouse at Buspark had been wrecked. People remained buried in the ruins of the five-storeyed building. Police and army personnel were removing corpses from the debris. More cries of pain and disbelief from those who had lost their loved ones. A primary care team was stationed outside trying to provide as much help as possible.


Lots of houses and buildings had been destroyed along the Balaju bypass area. We headed towards Pashupati. The main temple was intact although some of the surrounding temples were damaged.

There was no electricity in the entire Kathmandu and no Internet. Only the 3G mobile network was functional. People were lined up outside in the street in makeshift tents. However, we slept inside the house. I tried my best to post updates on twitter. Throughout the night, we were constantly frightened by repeated tremors. This is how I spent the day the earth shook.

(Thanks Pranabh Shrestha and Saugat Chalise for translation)

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