I am writing a quick update from Kathmandu (5/12) now that Apa and I are out of the Khumbu mountain region. We left Thame the evening of May 8th on a helicopter that was dropping off rice and supplies in Thame. After a quick stop in Namche, to pick up and injured Nepali woman, we landed in Lukla and spent the night at the Paradise Lodge. Apa is good friends with the owner so we were treated very well. The next morning we luckily caught the 3rd flight out of Lukla to Kathmandu.
We felt fortunate to catch a flight out of Lukla because it had started to get very cloudy before our flight. The flight from Lukla to Kathmandu flies down a steep walled mountainous canyon and crosses over a high pass. The pilots will not fly when the visibility is low. Like I mentioned, we were fortunate to be able to fly because we were quickly in the clouds with little to no visibility. It turned out to be a very adventurous flight with a safe landing in Kathmandu!
It was very hard and sad to leave Thame after spending almost 2 weeks there. Apa was born and raised in Thame and has a lot of family there and in Upper Thame (Thameteng), a 15-20 minute walk from Thame. Apa is good friends with everyone in both villages. The entire Thame region was hit extremely hard by the earthquakes. Nearly 90% of the homes were either completely destroyed or crumbled and cracked to the point where they are not safe to live in.
When we first arrived in Thame some families were sleeping under tarps and the lucky ones were sleeping in tents. Tarps and tents were in very short supply when we first arrived. The elevation in Thame is about 12,500 feet and the temperature drops below freezing at night. The Thame people seemed to be in shock over what had happened to their village. Many women were crying, the children and the adults were all very jumpy and scared because of all the aftershocks. The women were cooking over fires on the ground and the men, boys, girls and some of the children were all working hard and scrambling to build shelters and cover what belongings they had salvaged from their homes to protect them from the rain. It rained often while we were there, sometimes all afternoon and night, and it snowed a couple of times.
The immediate efforts when we first arrived in Thame were focused on getting more tents and tarps to Thame and giving them to the families who had little or no shelter. At the same time all the families were working on digging their belonging out of the rubble and/or removing their belongings from their severely damaged and badly cracked houses. The pictures of the homes and villages can be very deceiving. Even though a house may appear to be standing, most suffered severe damage. The front or side of a house may look okay and the roof may appear to be intact but what you don’t see is the entire backside and/or other side of the house may have crumbled or many of the walls are badly cracked making the house very unsafe to live in. Only about 10% of the houses in Thame are semi-safe to live in, the rest are unlivable and the families are sleeping outside.
Once the first efforts at setting up some very basic temporary shelter for each home were complete the family members then began work on building temporary cooking areas. Apa and I helped several families build these temporary cooking areas or cook kitchens. The basic design for most started by salvaging some wood posts and other available lumber from their damaged homes and buildings. Then digging some holes for corner and support posts, placing the posts in the holes and then pounding rocks into the holes around the posts for stability. A basic frame was then built using salvaged lumber, rope and a few nails if available. Then next step was to enclose the building. The fortunate families had some extra tin roofing and less fortunate used anything they could scrap and piece together. Once the walls were built it was typically covered with a tarp if available. A table or two, a stove, pans, cooking supplies and a few chairs were then carried into the new cook kitchen and this is where the family currently cooks all meals and makes tea. The cook kitchens are an essential part of the Sherpa family life.
I started writing this message this morning with intents of finishing it this afternoon but didn’t finish my thoughts due to todays events. I will try to soon but wanted to get this out along with the following Important Update!
**IMPORTANT UPDATE** – at around 12:35pm today, Tuesday May 12th, another 7.4 earthquake hit Nepal. The first quake was followed by another pretty strong one and a couple of more aftershocks. Apa and I are safe and well. We were luckily in a car when the quake hit. Chaos and panic followed with people running, motorcycles speeding and weaving through the people and cars, ambulance and police vehicles trying to make their way through the crowds and traffic jams, which we were stuck in. After a few hours we made it back to our hotel – normally a 15 minute drive. Our hotel had been evacuated and everyone was outside. We waited outside with the rest of the crowd until hotel security allowed us back in the lobby around 5pm. At around 6:30pm we were allowed to go up to our room, 5th floor, and grab a few things. We quickly gathered our passports and valuables out of the room and we are now down in the hotel lobby with the rest of the hotel guests. We are still planning on flying home tomorrow but have been unable to confirm our flights for tomorrow.
Video of Kathmandu streets today about a half hour after the earthquake
Apa was able to reach his brother-in-law, Kusang, in Thame, shortly after the earthquake. Kusang and his family and Apa’s mother are safe and uninjured. Kusang said that Apa’s lodge and buildings, which were severely damaged by the April 25th & 26th earthquakes, were completely destroyed in today’s quake. We don’t have any further details about Thame, the Thame area or the Khumbu region at this time. According to the news reports, the epicenter of today’s earthquakes were near Namche which is very close to Thame.
With very sad hearts, Apa and I will be leaving the beautiful country and people of Nepal tomorrow to start our journey home.