The day the earth shook in Nepal

One moment I was dancing and shaking to the B-52s' “Rock Lobster,” the next moment the whole house was shaking.

With a sinking heart, I knew then that the devastation from the earthquake would be massive – but just how bad, we still didn't know. Then I remembered I had 3G. I turned on my work email. The office was now trying to account for all of us. I couldn’t get through to my other colleagues via the phone lines so I sent an email that my family and I were fine. I googled and saw the breaking news: 7.9 magnitude earthquake hits Nepal, reports of damage and some deaths and an avalanche in Mt Everest.

I realized I had to quickly send out word to our families in the Philippines and Finland and friends from around the world that we survived. This, before we lose the connection and the battery power on my phone. I quickly posted a note on Facebook which was good because our family and friends were very worried after seeing the news from Nepal.

The “great earthquake,” as it is now being called here in Nepal, struck close to noon, at 11:58 am to be exact.  It was a fine sunny Saturday morning. But the rest of the day was marred by the continued tremors, toppling buildings and houses, burying with them people and their precious possessions.  

We spent a sleepless night in a tent and sleeping bags which came as part of our earthquake emergency kit. I’ve never been so thankful for having this kit, and also for the extra food and water we always stored in preparation for this day. 

TEMPORARY SHELTER. Although he was very scared, my dad still managed to smile as we set up our tents in between the aftershocks on Day 1. My son's play tent also came in handy. Photo by Leotes Lugo Helin

TEMPORARY SHELTER. Although he was very scared, my dad still managed to smile as we set up our tents in between the aftershocks on Day 1. My son's play tent also came in handy.

Photo by Leotes Lugo Helin

When we first moved to Nepal, one of the first things I learned was to prepare for the possibility of a major earthquake. The UN conducts regular simulation exercises so we know what to do. In fact, the day before the earthquake, we just had one exercise so my “go bag” filled with emergency supplies was ready. This preparedness definitely paid off.

Humanitarian support

The next day, with my husband and child in tow, we decided to head to the office to get more information and see how we can help. I was sure there would be something for me to do, UNICEF being the main UN agency to respond to the needs of children during emergencies. We saw the path of destruction on the drive from home to the office: houses with collapsed facades, temples in rubble, a high-rise mall with huge cracks on its pillars. 

The office looked like a refugee camp. Many colleagues whose houses were partly damaged or just too scared to go back home were camping on the lawn. The good news was that all of us were accounted for. I also got word that the few Filipinos working for the UN in Nepal were all fine but could not get through to other members of the Filipino community here.

I went with a few UNICEF colleagues to the park in Tundikhel in the heart of Kathmandu, where many people were taking refuge. This was to make a quick assessment of the number of displaced people, how many of them were children, and what assistance they needed so UNICEF can provide the needed humanitarian support. 

CHILD-FRIENDLY TENTS. UNICEF tents for children affected by the earthquake. Photo by UNICEF Nepal

CHILD-FRIENDLY TENTS. UNICEF tents for children affected by the earthquake.

Photo by UNICEF Nepal

There were about 20,000 to 25,000 people in that big open space, some huddled under tarpaulin tents. Others used blankets to protect them from the sun, and many more just sitting in the open with little food and water. I was worried for them, knowing there was a forecast for thunderstorms that evening and the coming days. But they were just a small percentage of the affected population. Millions more were out there waiting for help.

Hours after the earthquake, UNICEF started mobilizing much needed life-saving supplies to get to the affected population. 

We were in a van on our way back to the office when Sunday’s 6.7 magnitude aftershock hit. People on the streets were screaming and running to the middle of the road. The van stopped yet it continued shaking hard. We slowly came out and stood in the middle of the road.

We were in front of the oldest secondary school in Kathmandu – or what was left of it after the  big earthquake. I feared that the remainder of the building would collapse further; luckily it did not. It also made me think it was fortunate the “great earthquake” happened on a Saturday when schools were closed. Many schools in the affected areas of Nepal sustained damages with some districts reporting 80% to 90% of schools totally damaged.

More than a week after the April 25 earthquake, its impact has yet to be fully assessed. Government officials have been quoted in news reports saying the death toll could exceed 10,000, with many villages almost flattened out. 

Help, supplies needed

The Philippines is no stranger to calamities. We all know too well what is needed after a super typhoon, a flash flood or when a major earthquake hits.

HELPING VICTIMS. UNICEF staff tend to children affected by the earthquake in child-friendly tents. Photo from UNICEF Nepal

HELPING VICTIMS. UNICEF staff tend to children affected by the earthquake in child-friendly tents.

Photo from UNICEF Nepal

In Nepal now, we urgently need temporary shelter, water, food, medicines, and sanitation facilities and supplies for the millions affected by the quake. We also need secure child-friendly spaces where displaced children can play and learn, which will also aid in their recovery as it would take their minds off the experience and give them a sense of routine. Education needs to be re-started by reopening schools not badly damaged, and through temporary learning centers.

Nepal is already one of the poorest countries in the world. The Nepali people certainly need all the support they can get for relief and rehabilitation.

Lucky

As for me and my family, more than a week after the earthquake we have moved back into our house but still sleeping on the ground floor. We originally thought our rented house was unscathed but structural engineers who inspected our house found some cracks where the exterior walls meet the ground. We need to find out more if these are superficial or has partly damaged the foundation.

We are still getting some aftershocks. I still jump at every loud noise. Even the sound of big planes passing by seem to rattle our house more than before. I don’t even know the difference anymore between having nightmares or experiencing real aftershocks. But in general, my family and I feel relatively safe again. We have food, water, and we have replenished our emergency supplies. We have been relatively lucky this time.

The sad part though is that millions in Nepal continue to suffer, particularly those in the countryside. They need the world’s urgent help now. – Rappler.com

To help support Nepal, please donate via the UNICEF website.