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Nepal earthquake: A race against time

Posted by Prabin Man Singh

30th Apr 2015

Oxfam has been working in Nepal for 30 years, with many staff living in Kathmandu. Despite the destruction the earthquake caused in their own lives, Oxfam staff and volunteers in Nepal are working around the clock and refusing to rest until people are safe. Here, Oxfam's Prabin Man Singh described the terrifying moments when the earthquake struck

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"I was on the roof of my six-storey building when the quake struck at noon. I held the wall firmly with my both hands. I could not think of anything - my house was swinging. It was the most terrifying experience I've ever had. After almost one minute, the shaking receded, and when I looked around I saw a spiral of dust in the sky.

"As the shaking stopped I rushed down the road… it was a nightmare. The tower had collapsed and hundreds of people were buried under the debris. I went to rescue trapped people and managed to pull three of them out. Two were unconscious and the other person was critically injured. One young woman who'd been rescued said she couldn't see anything. I pray that all of them have recovered and are safe now. The news reported that 70 bodies were extracted from under the tower… many others are still underneath the debris."

Five days of saving lives in Nepal

Prabin knew it was a race against time to save lives. This is what he and the rest of the Oxfam team did over the crucial first five days following the disaster.

Day 1 - Saturday 25 April: The earthquake strikes at midday. Once the terrifying shaking has subsided, Prabin and other Oxfam staff start helping their own families and neighbours - including keeping them as safe as possible during the severe aftershocks.


An elderly woman being helped to pass through the cordoned off site in Patan Durbar Square, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many people died after the monument collapsed. Credit: Shristi Rajbhandari 

Day 2 - Sunday 26 April: Staff grab their hard hats and torches and start assessing the situation - in particular, in the 16 evacuation sites in the Kathmandu Valley where survivors are seeking refuge. The team start planning how to get support to the harder-to-reach communities. Thankfully, Oxfam has a stock of water and sanitation equipment ready for emergency situations like this, so Prabin and his colleagues don't have to wait for it to arrive from the UK or elsewhere.


Oxfam-trained volunteers erect a water tank with a capacity of 11,000 Litres of clean drinking water at a temporary camp in Kathmandu, Nepal. They are assisted by volunteers from Holland, tourists stranded after their flights were cancelled, and members of the Nepali armed forces. Credit: Aubrey Wade

Day 3 - Monday 27 April: Oxfam staff and volunteers start to reach people in the destroyed city of Kathmandu with clean drinking water, temporary latrines and other essentials. They also set up a special water storage unit in one of the evacuation sites in Kathmandu Valley. Meanwhile, the team continue to assess the vast number of communities and areas affected, and start working out how to reach them. Moving around and taking stock of what is really needed is not easy in these conditions - but staff move as quickly as possible, knowing that every hour counts.

 

10 miles away from the epicentre of the earthquake is the isolated mountain village of Ghyampesal. The village has been badly hit with 95% of houses damaged or destroyed. Credit: Dan Rivers 

Day 4 - Tuesday 28 April: Having recruited enough manual labourers to help get things moving faster, by the fourth day Oxfam is operational in Kathmandu Valley, with clean water facilities and latrines being installed in evacuation sites. Support staff from elsewhere in the world have now arrived, including a highly experienced water and sanitation specialist. Some staff have also been able to reach the more distant areas. They work out what's needed to save as many lives as possible, and how to get vital equipment there quickly.

 

21 people share this tent in one of the temporary camps In Kathmandu Valley. Access to safe drinking water, clean toilets, and washing facilities is vital to help ward of disease in a situation like this. Credit: Aubrey Wade / Oxfam

Day 5 - Wednesday 29 April: 20 temporary latrines are now installed, and another 20 are being constructed - and over 50,000 litres of safe water have been distributed. Access to clean water and latrines is vital to help stop disease spreading in the crowded temporary settlements. We have also distributed 90 tents in one area. The number of people we are reaching is increasing by the day, but it's still a race against time to get into more communities, particularly in the harder-to-reach areas. More help is needed…and more is being done each day. Prabin and the Oxfam team in Nepal will not quit. Despite the impact of the disaster on their own loved ones and homes, they will keep going, delivering vital aid to help families survive in these desperate conditions.



Oxfam temporary latrines in one of the temporary camps near Kathmandu. Credit: Aubrey Wade

It's a race against time to save lives - please give what you can today.

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Header Image: Shekhou Khadka is one of 500 Oxfam volunteers trained to react in the event of an earthquake in Nepal. In this photo he is unloading latrines being delivered to a temporary camp in Kathmandu: "I'm sleeping under canvas outside our house but my family are safe. I became a volunteer because I wanted to serve my community. The big challenges that lie ahead: supplying food, water, and health care"  Credit: Aubrey Wade / Oxfam