Nepali Times

Surviving Dharara

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Shobha Sharma in Setopati, 29 April

On the fifth floor of the National Trauma Center, 17-year-old Ramila Shrestha and her friend Sanjeev Shrestha lie next to each other in the same ward. Ramila with a fractured leg and Sanjeev with a fractured arm. Both of them, survivors of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit central Nepal completely demolishing Dharara.



Ramila came to Kathmandu two months ago from Ramechhap to help her father Deepak Shrestha with his shop in Kirtipur. Sanjeev, a native of Bhimpokhari, was living with his sister-in-law at Basantapur. Ever since reading about Dharara at school, Ramila had wanted to climb the country’s tallest tower. So, on Saturday the two set out to enjoy a bird’s eye view of Kathmandu before going to the movies at Guna Cinema Hall.

Excited about her first visit, she walked ahead of her friend while stopping to look out the circular windows along the stairs. The two had just stepped out into the balcony when the tower started tottering. From the ground people started shouting “earthquake”. Ramila remembers Sanjeev sitting down while she held on tightly to the railings as the structure came crashing down. Next thing she remembers, she was lying flat on the rubble with her friend a little further away. The railing she had held on to crushed a mother and her daughter.

“If I hadn’t been thrown off, I would have been dead too,” says Ramila who was rescued by a policeman nearby. Sanjeev remembers waking up in front of Bir Hospital.


“Five minutes after I got out of Dharahara, the tower collapsed.”

Nakul Basnet in Kantipur, 27 April

I had never climbed Dharahara and had never planned on doing it either. However on Saturday, on my way to a friend’s birthday in Thamel, I got off at Shahid Gate. Checked my watch, saw that I had some time left and decided I would climb up the famous tower.

There were six people ahead of me. When I got on top, the sky was dark and the view was not clear. The balcony looked unsafe. Too scared to look down and with nothing else to do, I decided to go down.

More people were climbing up the Dharahara when I was descending. I noticed that a lot of them were young people and women.

Within 15 minutes I  had made the journey up and down the Dharahara. I was at Tundikhel when the earthquake hit. People from New Road gate and nearby areas soon started flowing into the parade ground.

Immediately I looked at Dharahara, it was gone. I could not believe that I was inside the tower just five minutes ago and now all that left of it were rubbles.

When I went back to my office at Singha Durbar where I work as a migration officer, my colleagues kept reminding me how lucky I was.

That evening I camped at Bhrikutimandap. I couldn’t sleep all night. I couldn’t stop thinking of the day’s events. The question- what would have happened if I had not left on time keep bothering me. I keep thinking about the Dharahara more than the earthquake, I think of it every time I see an old house.


Tower of grief

Raj Kumar Dikpal in Annapurna Post, 29 April

It was a day of reunion. Pitamber Tigela of Tehrathum was out with his long-time friend, retired Singaporean Police Yam Bahadur Limbu. Tigela, his wife Budhamaya, son Pravin, niece Kaushila, nephew Sanju and Limbu were sightseeing at Dharahara when a 7.8M earthquake hit central Nepal bringing down the nine-storey structure.

All six died.

Limbu was set to return home to Singapore on Monday after a six month vacation in Nepal. His son and wife are still in Singapore.

Tigela’s niece Kaushila was studying to be a nurse. She was dead by the time she was dug out.

“They said they’d come back after the trip but what came instead was bad news,” said Kaushila’s father, Tek Raj Tigela.

All six of them were cremated at Aryaghat on Tuesday. Relatives decided to cremate both Tigela and his wife on the same pyre.

“This is the first time I have seen both husband and wife being cremated on the same pyre,” said Tharkadeep Tigela who is related to Tek Raj.

Everyone their own way

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Earthquake survivors jostle each other to grab tarpaulin sheets in Lalitpur on Tuesday. Photo by Om Astha Rai

A truck laden with tarpaulin sheets stopped outside the Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City office on the fourth day of the deadly earthquake that killed thousands and made many homeless in central Nepal.

The truck was immediately swamped with hundreds of locals who had been living in the open after the earthquake damaged their houses. They jostled each other to grab the sheets, ultimately forcing police to chase them away with batons and cordon off the whole area.

Earthquake survivors were expecting at least a sheet for each family, and they were outraged when told that five families would have to share a sheet. They started shouting slogans against authorities: “We’re not refugees, treat us like citizens of this country.”

As the authorities were trying to convince earthquake survivors that they did not have enough relief material eight trucks full of tarpaulin sheets and food were parked in the premises of an Armed Police Force (APF) base in Satdobato, Lalitpur.

“We asked the APF officers to distribute relief right away,” says Sishir Gurung, a local resident. “But they said they had yet not got orders to do so.”

The lack of coordination between government agencies has not only hampered relief distribution but also rescue efforts. As of now, 15 countries have sent their rescue missions to Nepal but there is little coordination from the Nepali side as to where to deploy them.

On Tuesday, when a team of French rescuers was pulling out a man alive from under the rubble of a collapsed hotel building in Gongabu, a Turkish medical team also reached the same place. The Turks wanted to help but the French rejected their support. The French requested Nepal’s APF to send the Turks away.

“The dispute briefly interrupted rescue work,” said a Nepali police officer  helping the French team. “The French did not want to share the credit for rescuing a man alive after 82 hours, and the Turks also wanted it.”

On Wednesday morning, locals in Gongabu informed rescuers that they saw signs of a girl still alive under the rubble of a collapsed building in Gongabu itself. But the APF team did not act with the urgency demanded because he hadn’t got the orders.

Saturday’s earthquake, worst after 1934, left over 5,500 people dead and over 10,000 wounded. The death toll could reach higher as rescue teams have yet not been able to reach many far-flung villages of Gorkha, Dhading, Lamjung, Nuwakot and Ramechhap districts.

As thousands of families wait for rescue and relief in remote areas,  earthquake survivors are left high and dry even in Kathmandu Valley. “The mighty have received relief, the helpless have not,” says Ram Adhikari, who was hoping to get a tarpaulin sheet outside the sub-metropolitan office, Lalitpur. “We see no one who distributes relief equitably.”

In Nepal, lack of coordination is always a challenge when it comes to dealing with disasters. Saturday’s earthquake has exposed how much worse it can be. Two days after the earthquake, Information and Communication Minister Minendra Rijal conceded lack of coordination on the part of the government and promised to do better from Wednesday. But these things change slowly.

Om Astha Rai


82 hours

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

In a small alley in Gongabu bus park are a row of guest houses that usually accommodate Nepali migrant workers on their way to or from their home districts.

Today, the guest houses are all leaning on each other, with broken windows, cracks and gapoing holes where their walls used to be. On the road amidst piles of broken bricks and a strong stench of rotting bodies are abandoned flipflops, shards of glass, wires. At the end of the alley, a seven-story house has pancaked into two. Many of the bodies have been removed. But a man has just been found inside, he is still alive.

Twenty eight-year-old Rishi Khanal of Arghakhanchi was pulled out alive from the guest house on Tuesday night after almost 82 hours trapped underneath fallen floors. A French rescue team and the Armed Police Force (APF) worked relentlessly for more than ten hours on Tuesday to pull Khanal out safely. The French team had brought special detectors to find out if anyone was still alive, and Khanal was barely breathing, his leg trapped under a broken concrete beam.

Rishi Khanal of Arghakhanchi was pulled out alive from the guest house on Tuesday night after almost 82 hours.

Rishi Khanal of Arghakhanchi was pulled out alive from the guest house on Tuesday night after almost 82 hours. Photo: Gopen Rai

“We started drilling a hole through the concrete according to the French team’s instructions, then they brought special equipment to cut the beam his leg was stuck under, only to find out his other leg was also caught on something. After cutting the ply, we were finally able to rescue him alive,” said Narayan Thapa of APF.

After finding out that Khanal was still alive a medical team went in to supply him with water and oxygen through a special tube. Rescuers had initially said there was one other person alive underneath the rubble, but he died before they could reach him.

French rescuers have rescued 14 people so far.

Sahina Shrestha

Earthquake exodus

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Thousands of people are leaving Kathmandu Valley in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that struck central Nepal on Saturday.

Apart from the damage caused by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks: fear of a disease outbreak is also driving thousands of people out of the devastated valley.

In Kalanki, hundreds of people, carrying bags stuffed with clothes, are seen waiting for buses to reach their homes. They are getting on any vehicles they can find, paying double the actual price.

Sita Pokhrel, 35, was waiting for a bus to reach Trishuli of Nuwakot district on Tuesday, carrying a newborn baby on her back. “I am ready to pay more but there is no bus to go home,” she said.

By 11 o’clock Tuesday, Sita had already spent two hours but she was still struggling to catch a ride. “A couple of micro buses left for Trishuli,” she said. “But I could not get on because they were overcrowded.”

Many transport entrepreneurs have not resumed their services, making it easy for a few others to fleece the panicked people. Kalanki area looked chaotic with people struggling to get on any vehicle they would get on.

Dhiraj Aryal, a teacher working in Kirtipur, also left Kathmandu on Tuesday. He said, “More than fear of aftershocks, it is the fear of outbreak that I am worried about.”

According to Baburam Marasini, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control Division (EDCD), no outbreak has been reported so far in the valley but its possibility cannot be ruled out.

“Water-borne disease could spread in situations like this,” he said. “So, I would request everyone to drink safe water. If there is no safe water, boiling water before drinking is advisable.”

The death toll from the earthquake has reached 4,347 by Tuesday morning. Authorities say the death toll could go up as rescue workers continue to dig out bodies from under the debris of collapsed houses.

Day 3 update

Monday, April 27th, 2015
The rain has made life more difficult for locals waiting out the shocks in temporary shelters Pic: Cynthia Choo

The rain has made life more difficult for locals waiting out the shocks in temporary shelters Pic: Cynthia Choo

Two days after a deadly earthquake struck Nepal, the authorities are struggling to cope with competing demands for relief, as the confirmed death toll crossed 3,500 and was increasing by the hour.

The full scale of the disaster became apparent on Sunday when Nepal Army and Indian Air Force helicopters found village after village in remote Himalayan valleys completely flattened by the quake. Tens of thousands of people are without shelter and in urgent need of medical attention.

In Kathmandu, where there were at least 810 fatalities, almost the entire population spent a rainy night out in the open even as strong aftershocks rocked the city. Residents said they urgently needed tents, warm clothes, food, water and medicines.

Markets remained closed, but the government warned pharmacies on Monday that it would forcibly open them if they did open them themselves. There is still no electricity because of damaged transmission lines and power stations, but the NEA is said to be restoring power prioritising hospitals, the airport and other essential services.


The main challenge remains getting rescue and relief out to remote and scattered villages, and evacuate the wounded. Although Indian and Nepali military helicopters made 100 sorties on Sunday, and brought 308 severely wounded to Kathmandu, there were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people living in spread out communities.

The logistical challenge was compounded because heavy-lift MI-17 helicopters could not land on steep mountainsides where the villages are located. So on Monday the MI-17s landed in the district capital, while smaller helicopters ferried the wounded from outlying settlements.

Besides Kathmandu, the death toll has been highest in Nuwakot, Dhading, Gorkha, Lalitupur, Bhaktapur, Rasuwa and Sindhupalchok districts — all with more than 150 known fatalities. A multinational military cooperation is underway as India, China, Israel, Pakistan, Singapore, Britain, Sri Lanka and Bhutan have all contributed. Countries with Gurkha soldiers have brought them home for rescue and relief work.

Photographs taken by pilots of rescue helicopters showed villages precariously perched on steep mountainsides with very few of them left standing. Langtang Village is said to have been destroyed by a huge avalanche that fell off a glacier above the settlement. Many trekkers are stranded in Langtang, Budi Gandaki, Tatopani and other areas.

Meanwhile, Kathmandu airport is struggling to cope with the sheer volume of flights. Planes bringing in emergency relief are competing with regular flights for parking slots. The delays had a domino effect where some flights had to be diverted twice, while domestic flights resumed on Monday but with long delays because of congestion.

Reports from outlying areas of Gorkha, Dhading, Rasuwa and Sindhupalchok spoke of local people left to fend to themselves, sometimes digging out trapped relatives with their bare hands. In Sindhupalchok two people were rescued alive, and locals say digging equipment and specialised teams with sniffer dogs are immediately needed.

Chief Secretary Leela Mani Poudel told a press conference on Monday afternoon that the government was doing its best to cope with the crisis. He said what Nepal needed immediately were tents, specialised medical teams like orthopedics, and Collapse Structure Rescue and Search (CSRS) teams.

Kunda Dixit

Second night in the open

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Rescue workers dig out more bodies from under the debris of the devastated Budget Hotel building in Thamel on Sunday. Photo by Om Astha Rai

Hundreds of thousands of people in Central Nepal prepared to spend the second night out in the open as serious aftershocks continued to rattle people and forcing them out of their homes.

In Kathmandu, open areas like Tundikhel, Khula Manch, Dasrath Stadium and Maitighar Mandala were packed with families afraid of going home. They used any open spaces available, including school playgrounds, courtyards and bahals of inner city areas. Some people even used traffic islands.

2People who had hoped that the aftershocks had begun to taper off were jolted once more on Sunday at 1PM with a 6.5 magnitude earthquake epicentred northeast of Kathmandu which shook places as far away as Patna in India and towns in Bangladesh. Some families who had ventured home decided to stay out one more night in tents.

In Makhan Tole behind the devastated World Heritage Site of Kathmandu Darbar Square, people scared by the aftershock wept as they found out that there was nowhere they could spend the night.

“In our locality, people are frightened as their houses are old and already weakened by yesterday’s earthquake,” said Sanu Maharjan, a volunteer mobilised by Makhan Youth Club, before rushing out to pull bodies from under the debris of a house that collapsed on Sunday’s quake.

3“More houses are collapsing because of the aftershocks, it is scary,” he said.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala returned to Kathmandu on Sunday from Jakarta where he had gone for a conference and immediately convened a Cabinet meeting which warned people not to follow rumours but to be prepared for aftershocks.

Sunday’s aftershock razed houses that were damaged on Saturday’s quake and even killed some people in districts surrounding Kathmandu. The official death toll is now nearing 2,000 and is expected to go higher as reports come in from outlying areas of Central Nepal.

At Kathmandu’s Bir Hospital the corridors are littered with unidentified bodies, and the police was handing over identified ones to next-of-kin.

4Hospital Director, Swoyam Prakash Pandit, said as of Sunday afternoon, 99 people, including one Chinese and two Indian, had died after being brought there. Some 450 more wounded people have been admitted, and Pandit expected more as people trapped under rubble are rescued.

Thousands of army, armed police and Nepali police personnel have been deployed to rescue earthquake victims. But they are incapable of removing debris in narrow alleys of Kathmandu.

On Sunday, near Asan chowk, a team of policemen was unable to remove debris because they had no digging equipment. “We know many are trapped inside but we don’t know how to pull them out,” said a police inspector. “It can be done only by our disaster rescue teams but they are too few to reach everywhere.”

In the Patan Darbar Square which has also been devastated by the earthquake, families sat calmly in shelters inside schools and open spaces. Community organizer, Dilendra Raj Shrestha told us there was no presence of government, not even officials from the municipality who had visited.

“We urgently need tents and medicines,” he said, recalling the hardships of Saturday night when about 400 people slept in the open and were drenched by a shower at 1AM. Fortunately the a400-year-old stone spout in the square outside provides water, and the community raises money to cook two meals a day.

He said: “Please tell the world. We need help.”

Om Astha Rai

Massive earthquake rattles Nepal (updated)

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Dharahara collapsed in Saturday’s deadly earthquake. Photo by Om Astha Rai

The death toll from a powerful earthquake that rattled several parts of Nepal, including Kathmandu Valley, on Saturday has reached 686, according to Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA).

More than 500 people are reported to have been injured and are receiving treatment on the streets as most hospitals have been inundated with casualties.

durbar magThe earthquake that affected 38 districts has badly hit Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Gorkha, Sindhupalchok and Lamjung.

According to the MoHA, 54 deaths in Kavre, nine in Makwanpur, 10 in Okhaldhunga, five in Ramechhap, two in Bhojpur, six in Nuwakot and 12 in Gorkha have been reported so far.

The earthquake has also killed 10 mountaineers at the Everest base camp. They were preparing to summit the Everest this season.

The death toll could go higher as hundreds more presumed to be under the debris of the collapsed houses.

The earthquake, measured 7.9 in the Richter scale with its epicenter in Lamjung district, leveled many historic and archeologically important sites in Kathmandu Valley, including Dharahara and nine-storey palace in Basantapur durbar square.

lokanthaliThe earthquake damaged hundreds of houses in Kathmandu Valley, rendering a large number of families homeless.

Hospitals are now teeming with injured people and dead bodies. As aftershocks of the earthquake continue to rattle Kathmandu Valley, thousands of people are now on the streets. Thousands more are staying in open areas like Dasarath Stadium, Tundikhel and Khulamanch.

As of 3 p.m., 86 dead bodies had been taken to Bir Hospital and 60 in Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH).

Dharahara collapsed leaving more than 100 people dead.