“It was at that point when I heard myself yelling over the sound of the building the earthquake, I really thought that was where I was gonna die.”
Place: Kunming, China
Date: 27th of April 2015
Original Language: English
Interview by Lena Dorfschmidt
I suppose I will start at the beginning.
Carmel, my girlfriend, and I had already booked a flight to go to China on the 25th of April and we had just packed our bags in our guesthouse in Kathmandu. Carmel had packed earlier, and she was downstairs and I was just doing a final check of the room to make sure that there was nothing left behind. And then I remember looking at my watch and I remember it was 11:56 as I was opening a window and then I noticed the lights flickering, which wasn’t anything unusual for Nepal, really, with the electricity coming and going. And then there was the sound of a vacuum cleaner going which then stopped. And then the windows started shaking and then there was,.. Then the earthquake started, it was a sound, first of all… It was so… It was loud. Sounded like a hundred jet engines going overhead. And there was the first sound really of the shaking of all the windows. I thought it might pass quickly and I sort of got to the floor and then it got stronger and then the sound was deafening. It was crazy; it was just indescribable, the building shaking. I got into a little hallway that was in our room. So I looked up and had a look where one of the concrete pillars would be. I figured it would be the safest area and I sat down, pressed my back against the wall and my legs against the other wall. I could see out the window and I could see the amount the building was swaying and moving around, it was a good couple of feet and I was only on the first floor. Can’t imagine how it must have been in the fifth floor up there. I heard screaming out in the streets. And I knew that part was really bad. As I was sitting down the concrete ceiling around me started coming down. It was kind of this feeling like you want helmet. The concrete was gonna come down on your head. It only takes one hit and then you are out. It was coming down, it was hitting the bed, it was hitting the TV.
In your room?
In our room, yeah. The shaking and swaying… It was a point of helplessness, cause I knew you couldn’t physically get out, with the amount it s moving. You could possibly go on hands and knees, but then it was – where are you gonna go? But the door to the outside room was jammed, half open, half shut, with the amount the building was twisting and moving.
So there was nothing you could do but try to wait it out. But then the waiting out… It sort of went on for a bit, maybe forty-five seconds to a minute. An eternity. Then the sound was still, it was like a thunder was coming from the ground. It was deafening.
I found I was just yelling, “Stop, stop, stop, stop!”. It was at that point when I heard myself yelling over the sound of the building the earthquake, I really thought that was where I was gonna die. I knew the buildings in Kathmandu weren’t built for the kind of shaking that we were going through. I just thought it was a matter of time. You have these images in your head of everything, from the plane hitting the twin towers and this building coming down and that is it. You were gonna be buried under tons of concrete. That building was a six-story building and I was on level one. I had no idea where Carmel was, I felt completely alone in my own experiences at that time, I suppose as everybody did.
Then eventually it stopped. I sort of waited for a bit. There was pretty large pieces of concrete around. Luckily nothing had really hit me, just a little bit of dust. Then I went downstairs. There was a group of tourists in the lobby, including Carmel was there. Some English backpackers were screaming and crying, they were in so much shock, asking what it was, what was that. As if they didn’t know. Just wondered what it was. That’s when I saw what had happened outside. I viewed down a couple of little alleyways where our guesthouse was. Walls had come down, the pathway wasn’t there anymore. It was under rubble like a bomb zone I suppose. I started to comfort a few of the people that were downstairs, crying, some they were still under wooden tables.
Then I went running back upstairs again to get my bag that was luckily already packed. A local Nepalese guy who was in the guesthouse, he came running up and he just started yelling, that we would have to get out, it’s not safe, the building might come down. Looking around you could see mayor structural cracks through pillars, didn’t look like it would take much more for them to come down. Same as few around us that had come down. The pathway out, the water lines mains had broken. So it was flooded as well. In Nepal and in Kathmandu they put a lot of their hot water units on the roof, from big water tanks. They had had come down as well, so a lot of water was pouring down from the standing buildings. Us getting down, there were waterfalls all around. So we tried to keep a bit of an orderly manner, we tried to get out of the alleyway that we were in. And we got out on the Main Street in Thamal, everybody was wandering around. Nobody knew where to go. It was an open construction site, where it looked like a lot of people started congregating so people started falling, crushing into that area. We still stood there for about ten minutes. And luckily we met with a couple of friends of ours. A few of them were injured from trying to run when it hit, but they couldn’t move, so they were hitting chairs on the way out. I saw a couple of Nepalese people with blood pouring down their faces from whatever rocks and bricks hitting them.
We knew we then had to get into an open cleared area. We went to go to the Peace Garden. It was a bit of walk, about ten minutes. So we went there and all the power lines had come down on the road, so the people were jumping over the power lines. A big sort of transformer power pole had come down right on a taxi and pretty much crushed it in half. A long the way were a lot of buildings down, walls down. I remember seeing a road that was closed down to traffic normally, on a normal day and it was like something had just pushed it up from underneath. It was just a good foot, foot and a half high for about fifteen meters, straight line of like mountain laid in the road. You could see there all big crack in the roads, up and down. The Peace Garden was closed, because all the main walls had come down on that. We were standing around with some of the people.
Then the second major… Or aftershock, that was a 6.7, I believe, that then hit. We were by a fence. Everyone again started screaming, running, but there was nowhere really to run. So we grabbed on to the fence, the three, Carmel, myself the American girl, grabbed on to each other. Just held on to the wall. That lasted maybe twenty seconds. As soon as that was gone, we sort of tried to find a bit more open area. So we kept walking.
[…} We didn’t know if the airport had been affected at all. We had to get to our flight, so we had to get to the airport. We left the American girl in the hands of one of our friends and told them to look after each other. We tried to get a taxi. And the taxi drivers – it was kind of sad – they were opportunistic of the disaster. Usually it was 500 rupees to get to the airport. They weren’t accepting anything less then 2000 to get to the airport. So we had got down to our last bit of money, we were heading for the airport before the earthquake struck. Luckily we found a taxi driver who would let us in for our last 1000.
So we got to the airport. And everybody was there. A lot had already flights booked. The airport was closed. So we sat in the car park of the airport for about four hours. Nobody told us what was happening. It was maybe a thousand […] people at the airport. Then there was a lot of aftershocks while we were at the airport. I think there was one about 4 on the Richter, so it was pretty big. And every one of them sent people running […], people who were sitting against walls, just running for the open car park, screaming.
And then eventually a sign came out, saying that our flight was cancelled. So what do we do now? We went to go to find a hotel close by, because it looked like the rains would be coming soon. We weren’t allowed into any hotel, because of construction damage, so Every hotel didn’t want to be responsible for their building coming down. So none would let you in anywhere. The streets were full of people just sitting on the streets. We managed to find a hotel, that although it wouldn’t let us in, let us on to their Wi-Fi, which was amazing, that they had Wi-Fi going, cause none of the cel networks were working. We contacted family and friends to let them know we were safe. So it went dark and no power was there, so that was pretty scary for a lot of people, us included. There was no streetlights, no building lights, nothing. But the Wi-Fi was still going.
A couple of people that were there got on to a side that said that there was a large shake expected to come in the next couple of hours, we were supposed to head into the open park. There were a lot of people, a couple of thousand in the park. So we sat there. So I was trying to get on… We had been given a phone number to ring about the flight and luckily after about a dozen tries I managed to get through and said, “We are heading to Kunming”, and the guy just said, “Get to the airport now!” It was only a ten-minute walk and we grabbed our gear and we ran to the airport.
There was still so many more people. A lot of people set up their tents in the car park, lot of people, had sleeping bags, no tents, but just their sleeping backs out. And then there was a lot of people gathered around the main entrance to the airport. We showed our ticket to one of the guys. There was a lot of military presence. And the military sort of checked our ticket and to our surprise they just ushered us though the crowds. Much to our astonishment and to the dismay of everyone else that was waving their tickets trying to get in. The airport was not even officially open yet, but the Chinese nationals were first to be offered relief to get out and we were categorized into that just by luck because we were flying to China. So we were, Carmel and I, were the only westerners in the airport. While we were in the airport there was various more quakes, so we went running. It was a long process. It was about 12 o’ clock when we were allowed to go into the airport and it was about three o’ clock when our fight left.
I remember […] the sound of the quake was deafening, and then after the quake, imagine silence, but it was silence – there was no one screaming, there was no one talking. Kathmandu is a very noisy place. We had been there for a week. There was no beeping of horns, there was no yelling, there was no touts. It was a really eerie place to be. The period after the quake was strange. No signs as far as the whole emergency service. We didn’t hear any ambulances or police horns or anything like that for maybe forty minutes after the main quake. Forty minutes is a long time for tourists and locals to be really not knowing what is going on. Nobody knew. And it was just that you were completely on your own.
You were saying before you managed to contact your family and friends…?
[…] Yeah, I managed to Skype my mum. She had no idea hat I was even in Kathmandu. She knew I was in Nepal, but she was watching the football game back home in Australia. So when I was saying that we had been in an earthquake, that I was okay, she said, “Oh that’s great, the Port Power team is doing great, I am just watching the game now.”
I was like, “Ah, ah cool.” At this point we knew there had been 400 confirmed dead. And I said, “Listen, mum, just so you know: there is 400 dead.” And my mum was like, “What? People died?” I was like, “Yeah, it was quite big, you know.” “Oh, all right, okay, stay safe.”
It was early, I don’t know how long it took the news to get to Australia. […] I think by now she saw it is somewhere around 2000. And she saw it s actually pretty big. So I was able to get on facebook and send a post out to friends those that knew that I was in Nepal, we are okay, we were accounted for. We still unfortunately have a friend who is unaccounted for. We are praying for him.
It was pretty bad. I didn’t expect to be… You travel the world for fun and to see the world and you never think that you are gonna be part of those images that you watch on TV from your couch at home, devastation in a third world country somewhere else.
Then there is… We are in China now. We got out. There is huge feelings of abandonment,. I feel selfish for leaving. I am not a doctor or a medic. I have hands, I can move rubble. There is thousands of hands there that can move rubble. Would I just be another hindrance, another mouth to feed or someone else to give shelter? But there is still that feeling, you know, we were in Nepal for five weeks. People in Nepal are beautiful.
Carmel she was very… We all were traumatized. There was no way that she was gonna head back into… I always thought that when I was gonna be in a natural disaster, that I would be there to help. I supposed your duty Is to help your immediate loved ones. To get her out was probably wise.
There is 2000 dead, but there is a million more people in Kathmandu. So there is no shortage of hands to help the physical labor of clearing the wreckage.
Us getting out was the right thing to do. Don’t want to be a hindrance. But there is still that feeling that you have left. You think of Nepal and the people of Nepal as being friends. You wouldn’t leave your friends.
The twelve hours after the main quake there were something like 200 serious after shocks. So we, in that period, you were on constant edge, never really relaxing, and every single shake would send you running. Everyone running.
Even now, being in China, yesterday you would hear an airplane overhead and Carmel would grab me and I would grab a wall or something like that. Just the sound I will never forget. If left us on edge. I suppose the period we were there our brains were wired to keep us safe. So hopefully the post trauma leaves quickly.
Everything is on edge. We had a… I remember standing when we were in the construction side, I was just watching some of the power lines and they were connected to all the buildings that were still standing. And you watched them and they were still. And even though you couldn’t feel it, because you were standing, you could see all the power lines started swaying and moving. There is something happening there. If you were to grab something solid, you would have felt the earth move. […] You were always watching something, like a flag, to get a perspective of what was going on, cause you never knew if a wall was gonna come down. Sort of just trying to judge what was gonna happen.