The crows freaked out. The dogs howled. And just as the sun was beginning to set, a second earthquake struck Nepal.
Animals react to earthquakes before they strike. People react after they hit. And in Nepal, Tuesday’s 7.3 magnitude earthquake, coming almost three weeks after the April 25 quake, prompted a primal response.
“You could hear chunks of buildings just falling,” says Cindy Stein, director of global programs at the Real Medicine Foundation, speaking from Nepal. “People were saying this prayer you say when you’re dying. A lot of the people around us were volunteers [from Nepal] and their families were not with them. The women were hysterical.”
The prayer Stein is talking about is a Buddhist chant usually heard only during funerals, says Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta, a monk in his 20s from Lumbini, Nepal. At that moment, everyone, fearing the end of their lives, was chanting. He and other volunteers had been working with Stein to gather supplies for remote villages and nunneries when the earthquake struck.
“It was a very powerful experience, and just seeing the panic and chaos was heart-wrenching,” Sakyaputta says. “It had been more than two weeks [since the initial earthquake] and people were just trying to get back to their lives. I could see they were on the verge of their nerves.”
Traffic came to a complete halt and people ran into the streets of Kathmandu, panicking. Half an hour later, yet another quake hit. This one registered 6.3. Tremors continued throughout the night and into the next day.
The second wave of earthquakes came just as the country was starting to transition into the rebuilding phase, Stein says.
The situation is even more difficult than before, she tells Goats and Soda. Procuring helicopters remains a challenge, and many roads that had been cleared in the past two weeks are now blocked again.
Oxfam America, which has about 100 mostly Nepalese volunteers already on the ground, plans on getting more help to Nepal. The group has 35 tons of equipment — including tents, water and sanitation supplies — to deliver by truck, says Darius Teeter, vice president of program. That will be even harder because of new landslides.
“We are in a race against time [with] monsoon season coming in June,” he says. “We’re adding more people, not subtracting.”
But the first thing the agency did, he says, was to send local volunteers home to check on their families.
“The second earthquake has increased the already desperate need [for permanent housing],” says Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International.
“We’re really focused on the long-term rebuilding of communities,” he says. “Our volunteers are out there helping families clear rubble and salvage any materials that can be used for rebuilding.”
Community members have also stepped up for search and rescue efforts. “It’s a hard job,” Stein says. “We had Matteya and other monk leaders bring them snacks. And we told [the local volunteers], ‘If this is what you want to do you need to be committed because we’re going to be here for a while.’ ”
Even those who didn’t have training.
“We had some friends within the Nepalese mountain biking communities who just sort of stopped what they were doing,” she says. The professional cyclists used their mountain bikes to deliver supplies to hard-to-reach areas. Families shared what food and other household items they had gathered from their homes with others.
“We realized after an hour [of] continuous tremors that it was going to be dark soon and nobody was going to sleep inside,” Stein says. People were camping out in open spaces all over Kathmandu. She and her team decided to set up a camp in an open field at the Nepal Academy that would shelter nearly 350 people. The majority, she says, are families who were too afraid to sleep at home.
They needed food but the local supermarket was closed for repairs and guarded by security. Stein says she didn’t know what to expect as she approached the guards to let her in. “I went up to them and asked nicely, that there is a camp and we needed supplies,” she says. “We were just going to get in and grab some things.”
The guards were amazing, she beams. “We had a big pot to make tea, and we had biscuits and noodles.”
People are extremely hopeful, Stein says, but not naive. They’re frustrated with the government, and they want assistance from the outside. But ultimately, she says, they want to be the ones to rebuild their country.