By Narendra Shrestha
I was on the top floor of my five-storey house and planning to take my daughter out since it was a Saturday. Suddenly, I felt the shake and naturally assumed that it was an earthquake. I went to my daughter’s room and positioned her under the door. At first I thought it might be a short quake like last year so we didn’t run. But this time it didn’t stop. All our belongings started falling from the rack and I could feel my house shaking left to right and right to left. My daughter started crying and I prayed to God for it to stop. “Please Stop!” But it didn’t. Left-right, right-left. It lasted 57 seconds, but was the hardest time of my life to pass.
After it stopped, I went to the rooftop with my daughter. There lay before us the surprising scene of the Kathmandu Valley. From the dust everywhere I assumed the density of this earthquake. I went for my camera to capture that view.
Later, my wife came to the roof to look after our daughter. In the streets people were panicking, running, some of them without clothes; army personnel and police were running, children were crying, and people were injured.
Almost about 100 meters from my home there was a construction site where almost 40 workers were trapped when the old houses next to the site had collapsed on them. They were trying to free themselves from the rubble as others rushed to rescue them.
At another site a seven-storey tourist guest house had collapsed. I saw a man injured and bleeding. Local youths were trying to rescue him from the rubble. It was a catastrophic scene, something I had only seen in photos and movies, but for the first time in my life I was witnessing and photographing it live. At one point as I held my camera, I was unable to take more images.
I regained my composure when I saw an old lady lying on the ground and a young girl crying “Ba Ba ..” (father). Suddenly my thoughts turned to my daughter and I ran towards my home to find her safe with other family members. She was frightened and crying, asking for me “Where is Ba Ba?” When she saw me, she ran towards me, holding tightly onto me. I tried to calm her and stayed with her for almost 30 minutes. My younger brother arrived with news about the city; our historical monuments had collapsed. Hearing that, my daughter held me even tighter. I tried to withdraw her hand from mine but she wouldn’t let go. For the first time I disliked my job because it meant I had to leave when she needed me the most.
The aftershocks could be felt day and night. Everyone took shelter on the roads, fields and grounds. No one dared to enter their houses but I had to get in to file pictures since cable internet was only working and available at home. Till today [8th May, 2015], 157 aftershocks have been registered. People still get alarmed with the aftershocks.
From the next day, I travelled around Kathmandu valley. Seeing all the collapsed monuments and heritage sites made me sad, as these are the places I grew up with. After a few days, I flew to the most affected villages in Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha district. The sight made me feel that the nation had turned into a refugee camp. All the houses had collapsed and colorful tents could be seen on the ground.
Supportors and aide organisations from different countries have arrived in Kathmandu and started rescuing and providing their services.
After a week, I was glad to find Kaaji Bogati, the first person I had photographed on the day of the earthquake. Kaaji, a construction worker rescued from the rubble, was in hospital with his wife. He had broken his rib and was waiting for surgery.
Another worker who was rescued after almost being buried alive was Bishnu Khadka [shown in the very first photograph of this post]; his condition is still critical and he is on a ventilator at ICU in Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu.
Now, after 13 days, life in Kathmandu slowly returns to normalcy. I received a message on my phone stating that the official death toll now stood at 7,802. Some 6,088 people are still in hospital while another 15,911 sustained injuries. The number of disappeared persons is 322 and damaged houses 288,798. Tomorrow is Saturday again and I would like to plan a fun day for my daughter but she says she gets scared when she hears the word ‘SATURDAY.’
N.B. Just days before the earthquake hit Nepal, Narendra Shrestha had been working on a feature package about the Muktinath Temple in Nepal’s Mustang district: http://www.epa.eu/feature-packages/archive/2015/muktinath-temple
According to reports, the tremors did not cause damage to the Temple site.