Dan in Kathmandu, “We had just landed in Kathmandu domestic airport with a group of hikers after completing the Annapurna Base Camp trek. As the group was unloading from the bus at the baggage collection area outside, I was walking into the main building in search of luggage trolleys. The first thing I noticed was a group of people running towards me from inside, followed by screaming then an intense rumble. It was very surreal how the world seemed to slow down around me. The trees began to sway violently and the walls began to crumble. I was separated from my guests, but they were quickly herded into a group by the airport soldiers. The ground was impossibly rising and falling and it was very difficult to stand. The screaming continued all around as buildings cracked and bricks fell. It felt like forever before the earthquake stopped and the rumbling subsided, leaving just the screaming and crying. I quickly gathered my group and led them to the safety of the main car parking area. As it slowly dawned on us what had just happened, we could see from our slightly elevated position that the city below had disappeared in a cloud of dust. It then struck me that this was a terrible event unfolding “
Arjun recalls from Pokhara which is 200km west, “I was in the lobby of the Pokhara Eco Hotel. We all ran outside. Many people were shouting and the noise of the earthquake was very loud. Pokhara didn’t suffer much damage so I thought my village would also be OK. I called my Ama (mother) in the village and she said they were OK but our homes and the village were completely destroyed. I realised then that this was a very serious situation ”
It was the worst earthquake in more than 80 years. The epicentre was less than 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu, the country’s capital in central Nepal. It struck at a relatively shallow depth of 6.8 miles which contributed to its strength and resulting damage. The quake lasted about 50 seconds and was followed by hundreds of aftershocks over 4.5. Kathmandu reportedly shifted 10 ft to the south in 30 seconds.
Dan remembers, “The hours then days following the earthquake and riding the subsequent aftershocks in Kathmandu were chaotic. The constant fear of the ‘next big one’ and the concern for family and friends were always on our minds.”
While Dan worked hard to get his guests safely out of the country, Arjun headed home to Gogane, Nuwakot district which is roughly 100 km northwest of Kathmandu. He hitched a ride, but was unable to make it to his village due to unstable roads and walked the last 20 km carrying a 40 kg pack full of first aid and plastic shelters. The epicentre was in Gorka district about 18 km west of Arjun’s village.
Arjun tells, “ My brother Shree and I saw dozens of cremations on the river banks as we rode the trucks towards my village. I walked across the river, up the mountain through the forest to my village and saw 95% of the homes destroyed. All of the people were making shelters out of tree branches and leaves, or if they were lucky plastic sheets. My father is 104 years old and we were very worried for him. I remember arriving at what was left of my home and I saw my father sitting on a dirty mattress outside and alive. My brother Shree went to him and gave him a big hug and they cried. I will never forget this moment”
Two major aftershocks of 6.6 and 6.8 occurred among the hundreds in the days following. Buildings collapsed, landslides and boulders constantly tumbled down through villages meaning sleep was few and far between. Tens of thousands of Nepalese and foreigners were also dealing with the heartache of loved ones killed or missing. Active Adventures cancelled the rest of the trekking season and almost all foreigners left Nepal. Dan decided to stay on with his brothers and assist with the survival of the folk in these hard hit villages.
Tribhuvan International Airport, serving Kathmandu, quickly swelled to capacity with incoming relief and fleeing travellers overloading services. All boarding lounge exit doors were opened to the tarmac as aftershocks caused travellers, security and immigration to flee to safe zones on the runways. Few airport workers were at their posts as many were either killed in the earthquake or had to deal with the after effects.
Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites were damaged or destroyed, such as the Dharahara tower, built in 1832, killing at least 180 people.
A second quake of 7.3 struck 17 days later on the 12th of May. This caused further damage and suffering to those who survived the initial disaster.
The first days after the earthquake, Arjun stayed in Gogane to build shelters out of bamboo and plastic for his extended family and neighbours as monsoon season was fast approaching. Shree returned to Kathmandu to check on his and Arjun’s wives and children. They were all afraid, but OK.
Dan’s guests had safely flown home after 3 days sleeping on the airport floor. The Active Hearts’ Satdobate library, that was due to open in 5 days on 1st May, was destroyed. All remaining funds for this project were immediately put towards emergency supplies.
Dan explains, “My girlfriend Kelsey and her friend Jenna, both nurses from Alaska, flew in on the 28th of April. Our small international team began to search out plastic tarpaulins, medicines, sleeping mats, torches, batteries, sanitary products, rope, clothing, rice and lentils. We bought a generator and had customized multiplugs and strings of lighting made. We bought hundreds of recharge cards to distribute so the villagers could call family in other areas. We sourced a jeep to transport the first load to Gogane. Our newly discovered driver Mr Prem Lama (who was to become a legend for his incredible driving) drove our first load towards Gogane on 2nd of May.”
While team members Kelsey & Jenna (Alaska), Gokul (Nepal), Gareth (USA), Mel (NZ) and Bec (UK) made their way with Prem to the hills, Dan and Shree stayed in Kathmandu to begin to source the next jeep load. No easy feat as thousands of others were scouring the streets of Kathmandu doing the same. Immediately a massive black market for goods arose meaning prices were grossly inflated. Luckily for the Hearts team, donations had started to flood in. We cannot express enough thanks to the kind folk from all over the world who fundraised and donated to our cause. Nothing would have been achieved without you generous people. There are many Nepalese who quite literally would not be here today if it wasn’t for you x
Gareth Leonard, aka Tourist2Townie.com, made a fantastic video of these first few days and the adventurous trip with the first jeep load of supplies to Gogane.
During the 6 weeks that followed Active Hearts spent roughly USD$50,000 on immediate survival supplies for rural Nepalese. As well as resources we personally delivered, Active Hearts sponsored jeeps that other friends took to hard hit areas such as Gorkha, Dhading, Kavrepalanchowk and Solu Khumbu. A donation page was set up specifically for local guides and porters so past trekking guests could easily and safely get funds sent to them through Active Hearts. Approximately USD $6000 was distributed through this page. They also assisted financially to the cremations of loved ones lost.
Dan says “One of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever done was hand over a small envelope with enough money for a young woman to cremate her 6 month old baby properly. I’ll never forget the sadness in her eyes”
Hundreds of flyers were given explaining the dangers of human trafficking which unfortunately blossoms during disasters such as this. The crew sponsored a jeep load to Yellow Gompa in Kathmandu where the survivors of Langtang were given refuge. They helped to distribute sanitary products, food and water. Unfortunately, the international aid and government assistance seemed to be scarce to non existent in many areas.
Active Hearts managed to provide roughly 400 shelters amongst 12 villages. These temporary accommodations could house 2500+ people. The idea was to reuse the materials for rebuilding once monsoon season had passed. In some cases we asked for a 'rebuild donation' from recipients when possible to go to the local school.
After six weeks of tough, beautiful, horrible, amazing, scary and humbling times the last of the Hearts international team finally flew out of Kathmandu. It had been an experience we would never forget. Witnessing the cruel and unforgivening forces of mother nature, but also seeing the power of community and selflessness in times of tragety was incredibly sad but heart-warming. Friendships forged became the foundation for our little charity and those involved vowed to return to Nepal and help them rebuild.