‘I don’t feel safe but life must go on’: one year on from the Nepal earthquake

Over 8,000 people died in the worst natural disaster to hit the country in more than 80 years. Still rebuilding a year on readers share their memories

Straddling the faultline between the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates, Nepal is no stranger to earthquakes. But just before noon on 25 April 2015 the country was struck by a 7.8-magnitude quake injuring more than 21,000 and leaving millions homeless.

Avalanches and tremors in the days that followed meant many of those in the hillside villages at the epicentre in Gorkha found themselves unreachable and in need of aid. With roads blocked and people struggling with sanitation and hunger, the search led to some extraordinary stories, such as the 15-year-old boy who survived five days trapped beneath rubble.

Due to the scale of the disaster, and despite donations and help from other countries, only a fraction of people were receiving the necessary aid. Unperturbed by this, the Nepalese turned to each other for help, relying on the goodwill of their neighbours and those in their communities to provide basic rations such as water, food and shelter. We asked you how you feel one year on, and how youve been affected since.

Ashish
Ashish

It felt like the destruction was totally random. I just wanted my old life back

Ashish Singh, a freelancer who lives in Kathmandu, remembers the walls cracking in his home when the earthquake hit.

Everything started shaking and a haunting violent sound could be heard, he said. Outside my window I saw other houses shaking and bricks falling down. Calling out to his mother who was two floors above him, Ashish and his parents ran to the nearest open space to them – Durbar Square. What they found left them feeling helpless.

When we saw all the collapsed temples it scared us even more and we ran back and stood in a small open space at the end of the alley near our house, he said. People were screaming, crying, running, hugging and praying with each aftershock.

As evening approached, Ashish and his family were able to eat something thanks to the generosity of a few people who cooked for the masses. We tried to sleep in groups and used newspapers to cover the floor before lying down as we were too afraid to go back home and get anything, he said. I could see collapsed houses everywhere. Some had fallen down completely, some leaned on others, and for some only a floor was missing; it felt like the destruction was totally random and merciless. I just wanted my old life back.

People
People praying for victims.

The next few days brought a slow transition from eating and sleeping under tarpaulin outside to moving back to the shelter of the ground floor of their homes. Faced with uncertainty Ashish found solace among his friends and family. One year on and victims are still lacking the resources to rebuild their lives. We have covered up the cracks but there are people who still have no proper place to live, work or study, he said. Once in a while we get minor shakes that bring back memories wed rather forget. In the back of my head I know that another large earthquake could hit. I dont feel safe but life must go on.

Carolyn
Carolyn

It felt like the longest minute of my life

Carolyn Kuenzi who lives and works in Switzerland and is married to a Nepalese runs a small charity that helps poor families finance the cost of their childrens education. She was on the roof terrace of a restaurant near Boudhanath, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the country talking to a friend when things started to change quickly around her.

It took me a few seconds to realise what was going on as my mind was in the conversation with Nima, she said. She started shouting. My thoughts were racing all over the place. I was scared and trying to absorb what was happening around me. Some of the other guests ran, most of them held on to each other, the table or a pillar. The whole earth moving randomly below my feet created incredible noise. The earthquake just seemed to go on and on… I now know it went on for around a minute the longest minute of my life.

Though
Though the stupa of Bouddanath was relatively unaffected it still required some repairs. Photograph: Caroly Kuenzi

Despite feeling great uncertainty and fear Carolyn felt that the way people came together in the days that followed reflected humanitys ability to come together during difficult times. Families would help each other, help their neighbours, fathers who are often out trekking had time to play cricket and football with their children, women cooked simple but tasty and healthy food for their families with limited ingredients, people stuck together, held each other during aftershocks and even found time to laugh at magic tricks their sons were performing to them. I always felt really well looked after by my friends and family and Im incredibly grateful to them for this.

One year on I still often think of that day. When the ground beneath me shakes (not earthquakes just for random reasons, in a lift, etc) my pulse quickens. I remember attending a yoga class, ordering an orange juice at the restaurant and calling a friend. After that it all becomes a blur.

Bhumika
Bhumika at her friends cremation in Pashupatinath. Photograph: Nicola Desouza

Relatives were giving up on trying to identify loved ones

A freelance writer based in Mumbai, Nicola Desouza was in Kirtipur for a 10-day Vipassana meditation residential when she felt the quake. A few days later she met her friend Bhumika Shrestha who had been searching for the body of Bhumikas transgender friend. She was washing utensils when the earthquake hit. She fled her house (which was untouched) and was killed immediately when a neighbouring house fell on her.

Most bodies were decomposed and blackish and relatives were giving up on trying to identify loved ones because the faces and bodies were unrecognisable, said Nicola. Bhumika recognised her friend only because of her breast implants, her male organ, a tattoo and piercings. The cremation at Pashupatinath was tragic. It was raining heavily and a lot of ghee was used. I stayed with Bhumikas family for several days in a tent outside their family home before leaving Nepal.

One year on and after several visits Nicola still plans to visit again. The biggest lesson I took away from the earthquake is that no one can predict when the next killer is coming.

Ketan
Ketan

The government does not seem to care

Though he now lives in Canada as a PhD student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Ketan Jung Dulal grew up in Kathmandu and was shattered by what happened. I feel as if I have lost a part of me, he said. Although my family say that everything is OK I know they have been affected psychologically.

My relatives in the village of Gotikhel seem to have more problems than those in Kathmandu. They have built a tin house as temporary shelter while they wait for a new home to be built for them. Next to this shelter lies the remains of their former home. The government does not seem to care. Thousands of dollars had been pledged when the earthquake happened but that money doesnt seem to have been used for rebuilding.

The
The temporary shelter built by Ketans family. Photograph: Kiran Dulal

I feel helpless when I see reconstruction is yet to start in some places

Apar Pramod cant believe its been a year already. He was having a meal when everything started trembling. I was totally confused and remained still for a few seconds as my mind went blank, he said. I was sitting next to a large TV which I unconsciously grabbed as it fell towards me. Now when I look back it was like being in an empty truck on a bumpy road.

With both his grandparents over the age of 60 Apar was unable to run out of the house with his family to safety. At that moment we decided to die together, he said. My sisters managed at least to stay under the dining table. Later that day we went out for some dry food, milk, bread, noodles, a water jar and some medicine as we knew they would be out of stock with everyone in need of supplies.

Even though he lived in Kathmandu where aid was more readily available than in more remote villages, Apar still felt it was a difficult time for all those affected. Desepite being homeless and sleeping under the evening sky with pebbles as bedding he and his family were determined to help in any way they could. We managed to collect study materials such as white boards, bags, books and pencils and deliver them to children in need, he said. I feel helpless when I see reconstruction is yet to start in some places and think of the children who have suffered severely from the quakes. I still feel we could have done more than we did.

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