Wednesday, September 21, 2011

6.8 Earth Shakes in Kathmandu

It's been a couple of days since we felt a good-sized earthquake here on Sunday night. It was the first serious earth-shake that we'd experienced in this relatively earthquake prone Himalayan region in two decades.

The worst, before this, had been the 1988 6.6 earthquake in Dhankuta, a 120 miles east of here. I'll never quite forget the lantern in the front hall swinging in the air for 5-10 minutes after the earthquake.

It's also when I learned the Nepali word for earthquake, one I never forgot. After all it wasn't exactly rocket science to understand what the chowkidars were yelling that night as the dogs were going wild and the nearby chicken coops screeching madly.

"Bwichaalo ayo!" came the cry from the guard in our yard and around the neighborhood. "Bwichaalo ayo!" 'Ayo' was easy... something had come... the Nepali noun didn't take much further thought as we could feel the house move around us. "Earthquake!"

This past Sunday evening, Josh n I were downstairs watching the Liverpool game when the floor literally started moving. "It's an earthquake!" said Josh as we both started moving away from the door nearby behind us -- but to the dining room to call "Leah, Leah, come down here quick, it's an earthquake!".

As she rushed down the stairs, followed by Cobie, her year old cat, we all rushed out the dining room through a sliding glass door. There was a rumble definitely, of either the loosely fitting glass windows or something from the house. We were all freaked out a bit by the sudden rush of risk and danger.

"I'm scared!", Leah said as she hugged me tight, "I'm scared!".

Little Leah was shivering and hugging w/ the fright we all felt while standing outside staring at the house in the evening shadows. Joshua and Leah said afterwards that they saw the whole house shift, sway a bit, in the darkness as the earth moved below our feet.

"Let's get further from the building," Josh advised as we moved out in the frontyard stone steps, while I noticed the aluminum chimes were singing slightly in the silence with no nearby wind causing the sounds...

I also heard a huge guttural, wave-like rumbling come from the deep, dark earth's core. Honestly. A strange, elemental groaning from the depth of the mountain. A yawning and cracking, like the earth itself had woken up, stretched her stony bones and was about to move again. That sound, as if the earth were forming at a time when neither beast or man had ever existed, echoes still in my memory. 

To say that we were anxious is an understatement. I could feel my own body tensed, fearful, uncertain, vulnerable and acutely aware -- although we felt safer outside, the risk was all around us.

Fortunately, I'd grabbed my cell phone as we went outside. As the phone lines were congested, we only were able to get a text from Shakun some 30 minutes after the earthquake. She was still in Boudhanath, where she'd gone for a meeting, saying that she was safe, but worried about us. I tried to call her back, but it took quite some time for the phone lines to clear to even send her a text.

We stayed out for a few minutes, looking deeply at each other, then when we felt that we could be safe, we came back in.

"Everyone in the tv room together," I emphasized, "and let's open the doors and windows there", as we settled down calmly without any noticeable aftershocks. I shifted the couch so that a quick exit would be possible into the backyard, and left the glass window by the stream wide open for an alternative escape route.

After we felt safer in the house, I went upstairs to google 'Latest Earthquake' and found a USG website that updates earthquakes of all sizes and shapes in real time. I learned then that we'd just felt the ripples of a 6.8 in Sikkim, a 150 miles east of Kathmandu.

All I could think was that if it had been slightly larger, slightly closer, knowing that the Richter is an exponential scale so that a 7.0 earthquake is 30 times more powerful than a 6.0 earthquake, there would have been suffering on an unimaginable scale in this petite, congested, once sacred valley.

When Leah came upstairs to find me, we gathered our passports, our most important document file, some financial information and a box of energy bars I'd left on the bookshelf that we stuffed these into a black 'Go' bag. Leah put her small reading flashlights in the bag, too.

While I looked around for other important papers, Leah disappeared downstairs again. When I turned around, she had a dozen cans of tuna fish and a plastic bottle of water in her arms that she'd brought from our kitchen storage room. She smiled sheepishly. "We need to get more, too!", she said as she dropped these in our Go bag.

Later, when speaking with Sue, who lives w/ Karma and Pia, she said that from their eyrie terrace, a few hundred meters east of us, where the hill rises much more steeply and quickly, when the earthquake struck at 6:28 pm, they could immediately hear the fearful cries and screams of the people living in the crowded concrete homes below them.

I do know one thing now: this near-helplessness is a feeling that won't go away soon, possibly ever... most likely never...

1 comment:

Blogger said...

Earn faucet bitcoins from Easy Bitcoin Faucet. 11 to 33 satoshis per 10 minutes.