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12.05.2015 | Blog

Aftershocks in Nepal: "We had just started feeling safe again"

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake shatterd feelings of safety in Nepal. Francesca Schaffl from Welthungerhilfe emergency response team was there.

Two women and one girl are sitting in front of a damaged house
Recent strong aftershocks have been traumatizing for the people in Nepal.
Francesca Schraffl Foundation Partnerships Officer

I am getting up, it’s time for lunch. We will go to the small Japanese place in front of the office; the momos (typical dumplings in Himalaya region) are very good and rather cheap. The table shakes – have I bumped into it as I usually do (I am not the ideal colleague to have around in earthquake times) or is this an aftershock? By now, we are used to them. We normally raise our heads from our laptops, look at each other, acknowledge the tremor and keep working. Yes, it is no big deal. No wait, this is stronger. Whoa, this is waaay stronger.

We all ran towards the door. It suddenly stops. Someone says “It’s already over” and for few seconds I have that feeling of “Oh come on, there was no need to get so scared”. “It’s not!” shouts someone else, as the tremor grows stronger. We all rush through the gate onto the street. We are barefoot, as it is custom when inside a Nepali house. We run towards the top of the hill, where it’s slightly more open, away from the big building which is wobbling in front of us.

I can’t stand. This is not possible; maybe it’s an illusion from seeing the buildings moving from right to left. No, it’s not an illusion: I am really not able to stand. I need to crouch down, in order not to lose my balance. I don’t understand anymore what is happening, I just see people running, crying, screaming, I see houses swaying side-wise, I see a world which is not still anymore.

And then it stops. It stops way before the feeling of everything moving under my feet does. It stops way before I suddenly realize that the asphalt is scorching hot and I’m burning my feet on the road. It stops shortly before I see my Nepal office colleagues in tears. “We had just started feeling safe again”, says one while I hug her. It stops shortly before I see another Nepali colleague emerging from the office, in shock; she was on the phone when the earthquake struck and, panicked, hid under her desk, fearing she wouldn’t make it in time if she had tried to run out. We hadn’t even realized she was missing, until we see her appear in her yellow salwar kameez (a traditional South Asian outfit), covering her mouth with her dupatta (a long scarf usually worn by South Asian women), unable to control her tears.

Strong aftershock – tremor also felt in Delhi

I instinctively take my phone to call my family, but the line is not working. Miraculously, internet is still functioning, so I manage to inform my friends in Delhi – who have felt the tremor themselves – that I am safe. I ask one of them to send a text message to my mother in Italy, so that she does not worry when she will hear the news on the radio or television.

I look around me. An old lady is accompanied on both sides by two men. A young girl is gripping her mum’s arm, sobbing and jumping every time she thinks she feels the earth moving again. People are anxiously trying to get in touch with their family members, but the phone lines are still down.

Slowly, the Welthungerhilfe colleagues gather in the courtyard of the office. Only few words are exchanged, most of us say nothing, there is no need. If this is only a tenth of what people experienced on 25 April, I cannot even imagine how that day felt. This, for me, was terrifying. It lasted only few seconds, but they were enough to make me think “Now what?”

The phones start working. I call my mum, who has no idea of what happened and is wondering why a friend had messaged her saying I was fine. “I know,” she had responded “I spoke to her this morning”. Our Nepali colleagues hop on their scooters and drive back home.

Family is the first thing that comes to mind now

We cannot go back to the office; it is the basement of a three storey building and way too unsafe. We can also not stay where we are, it’s very hot and we are getting sun-burnt. We are lucky enough to be hosted in the garden of a nearby house, in the shade, sitting on some pretty garden chairs, sipping coke and eating snickers. There is a reason why this is called comfort food….

I call up our Alliance2015 partner CESVI – in the absence of a family to go back to, two Italian colleagues will do. I join them in a nearby restaurant, with a very brief stop in the hotel, to leave my laptop; I literally run up to the first floor and to the end of the corridor, where my room is, and dump my laptop bag inside, before running out again. A quick chat in my native language, outside in the garden because ‘you never know’, helps to calm my nerves.

We are now back in the hotel, in the terrace, which became our new headquarter as our office is too unsafe. We are trying to gather as much information as possible; it seems as if some of the areas where we did our distribution so far were close to the epicentre. We need to become fully functional as soon as possible, as our support now is needed more than ever. This must have been traumatizing for the people here; after such a dramatic experience two weeks ago, this feeling of insecurity again, the thought of “It’s not over yet” must be incredibly hard to cope with. I think about the people I met in Sindupalchowk, how scared they still were, how worried they were about their future.

How are they feeling now?

We are working away on our laptops, but a part of our brain is very alert, ready to send a clear signal (RUN!) to the rest of our body, if need be. We don’t know where we will sleep tonight. The GIZ staff has very kindly offered to host us, and other German NGOs staff, in their compound. Somehow we prefer to stay here, in what has been a ‘home’ for the past two weeks. The sleeping back I used in Sindhupalchowk will become handy again; whether it’s the couch in the lobby, or the terrace by the pool, tonight we will all be ‘camping’. And pray to not be woken up by the earth moving again…

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