Earthquake in Nepal

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May 29th 2015
Published: May 29th 2015
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I didn't want to seem insensitive and walk around gawking and taking a bunch of photos of the destruction...
Just over a month ago, on April 25tha 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. The earthquake struck about half way between Kathmandu and Pokhara, the 2 biggest cities, with the former being the capital of Nepal. As of today the death toll stands at 8924.

I was in Pokhara attending an introduction to Buddhism course. We were in the middle of a discussion on karma when the earthquake hit. There were 26 people in the class. When we realized what was happening some people started heading down the stairs to the courtyard. My initial reaction was to stand near a stanchion because I remember hearing that you should get under a table or stand in a doorway support beam because that is the strongest part of a building. Then I realize that I am in Nepal and there are no building codes here so the place may just come down.

Everyone exited very calmly and no one panicked. The earthquake lasted maybe a minute and a half to two minutes. I know because I was the last to exit and I even stopped to get my shoes, because if things start breaking you don't want to be barefoot. When
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.... but I did end up taking 12 photos to try and show the damage done...
I reached the courtyard the earthquake was still going on and I pulled out my iPhone to take video. I shot about 15 seconds of video, stopped and the earthquake was still going on.

Pokhara didn't sustain much damage. Here in the lakeside tourist area there seemed to be no fallen buildings and not even broken windows. In fact not many shops showed signs of things falling off shelves. It was really surprising giving the length and strength of the earthquake.

Now being from Las Vegas I have been in a few minor earthquakes. It is not that common but we have them now and again. This was the strongest earthquake I have experienced, but the length of it was what left an impression on me.

I was the only American in the class (no surprise there), and there were 3 Canadians, a few Aussies, the rest Europeans, mostly Dutch and German. I was the only person who had been in an earthquake before, so that coupled with my slightly above average interest in science made me the de facto expert on earthquakes.

I knew that there were
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...believe me though, this doesn't even come close to what it actually looks like in person or the somber mood that prevails...
probably going to be aftershocks but none of them would be as strong as the first one. 99% of the time this is the case. The problem with aftershocks is if a building is damaged the aftershocks, while not as strong as the initial earthquake, may be enough to finish off the damaged buildings. Since there didn't appear to be any damage to the buildings in Pokhara I was thinking that everything should be OK.

I tried to explain that while there would be aftershocks, they won't be as strong as the initial quake so the worst was behind us. We did experience some aftershocks, minor tremblings, but I guess after going through your first earthquake any other trembles would make you nervous and keep you on edge. The internet was down or very slow but then we started receiving reports on the damage to Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal. Then of course the rumors start up. One of the first was a building in Pokhara collapsed and 30 people died which turned out to be untrue we found out later. Then people were saying that another earthquake would happen at 3:30 or 4:15 or just
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... but Nepal seems on its way to recovery.
some other random time depending on whom you spoke with. I tried to explain to people that you can't accurately predict an earthquake, if you could then we would have know when the first one was going to happen. Indubitably when enough times are thrown out as to when the next earthquake would happen someone is eventually going to be right, but that is a guess not really a prediction.

That evening walking back to my hotel I saw people sleeping in tents or just on tarps by lakeside or any other open field or lot since they are worried about more earthquakes and buildings toppling. When I arrive at my hotel Ram, the owner tells me that everyone is going to sleep at lakeside. It is a small hotel with just 9 rooms and mostly Chinese tourists. When I am told that there is no damage to the hotel, not a broken window, picture fallen off the wall, or anything knocked off a shelf I tell him I can sleep in my room.

I am awoken at about 5:30 AM to another aftershock, stronger than the trembles we have had. People start screaming and dogs are barking and thus starts my day. Back at the Pokhara Buddhist Meditation Centre we resumed our course. Just before lunch another aftershock hit. This one was a 6.7 magnitude, the biggest aftershock so far. People didn't panic but there was a rush to the door this time and some people didn't want to go inside again. About half the class finished the course and we only experienced only very minor trembles since.

Back at my hotel everyone decided to sleep in the garden instead of lakeside since it was much quieter. After speaking to Ram about how the aftershocks wouldn't be stronger then the initial earthquake and that the frequency of the aftershocks decreased as time went on he deiced that he and his son would sleep inside especially seeing as how it was going to rain that night. In Pokhara many people slept outdoors for the next 3-5 days after the earthquake until they go tired of the rain and cold.

On May 11th I had the chance to go to Kathmandu with Ram who had to do some business for the day and would return that same night. It also gave me a chance to check if the embassy’s were operating and if I could get the next visas I needed.

Seeing some of the small villages along the road destroyed by the earthquake was somber. But since they were villages it was only two or three story buildings that were damaged. You also saw landslides where parts of the mountains had collapsed. When we finally arrived at the outskirts of Kathmandu is when the devastation really sinks in.

Observing the piles of bricks that once stood as apartments that housed families standing 6 or 7 stories now reduced to piles just 10-15 feet tall. You could count how many stories some of the buildings were by number the balconies that you could still see otherwise it was just a pile of bricks.

Some buildings lost just a wall on one side, exposing the inside as if it were a dollhouse. But to me the most visually impacting was surveying the structures that had almost fallen. These edifices were weakened and lean to one side sometimes resting against another structure. But many of the structures are standing all by themselves precipitously leaning to one side, as if Kathmandu were paying homage to the Leaning Tower of Pisa with not just one but scores of tributes. And not leaning at just a 5 degree angle like the Tower of Pisa, but a 22 degree angle.

Now there is not an unoccupied lot in Kathmandu. Most people are sleeping on the lots in tents, Some of the tents were from the Red Cross and can shelter multiple families and come complete with plastic windows. Some families are using camping tents donated by the trekkers who have left Nepal. But most families are just living under tarps help up with bamboo sticks.

Photos can't do justice to the devastation in Kathmandu. I had seen pictures in the news and on the web of the destruction but when I saw it with my own eyes it had a lasting impact and affected me in a way I could not imagine. Especially being able to compare and contrast it with the Kathmandu I had seen 3 months earlier.

Ram had been to his village a few times after the earthquake to assess the damage but I guess seeing the impact of the quake on Nepal's biggest city really shook him up. He mentioned repeatedly that he didn't feel safe in the city. We did our business, had lunch and took a local bus to see more of Kathmandu before heading back to Pokhara.

The very next day, May 12th a powerful aftershock hit Nepal. I was back in Pokhara at an internet cafe. The time was 12:50 PM and the aftershock was a magnitude 7.3. People screamed and ran into the streets. This aftershock was about 30 seconds in length, much shorter than the initial quake. And it didn't feel as strong. About 30 minutes later another aftershock hit, this time a magnitude 6.3. So once again people were sleeping outside for a few days (but not me).

You may think that a 7.3 magnitude and 7.8 magnitude are close but it isn't as close as it may seem. I guess on scientific level it makes since but not how everyday people would think. Here is a video that I found that is a great way to compare the sizes of an earthquake.

Different sources say different things so this from

An earthquake's power increases by 10 times with each increase in the number of its scale. That means Saturday's earthquake — the same magnitude as the one that hit San Francisco in 1906 — was 22 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in 2010.”

And this from

Each earthquake magnitude is 33 times more powerful than the one before. So each jump in magnitude means a lot! A magnitude-8.0 earthquake is 33 times stronger than a magnitude-7.0 earthquake.”

So that can give you some idea of how strong the earthquake was.

To me the thing that is burned into my memory is the length of time of the earthquake. Beforehand I thought the earthquake lasted 90 seconds to 2 minutes long. Now after looking at CCTV footage of the earthquake I can see it lasted for over 4 minutes! I could feel the ground shaking and rolling and hear the earthquake but because I didn't see any walls falling, buildings cracking, or even a single window break, it was hard what to make of it. Then reports started coming in.

After over a month I still feel aftershocks. They are very mild ones less than magnitude 5 but they are still happening. Except for they are not always occurring. It seems I suffer from "earthquake hangover." I sometimes think I feel very small aftershocks, but most of the time I am imagining it as it isn't really happening. From The New York Times: “One of Kathmandu’s most common complaints is the “earthquake hangover,” which means we feel the ground moving even when it’s not. Apparently it is an inner ear reaction to all the aftershocks, some 240 since April 25.”

Anyways I just renewed my Nepali visa for the final time, only another month left in Nepal, then off to my next destination. Next week I have to go to Kathmandu for a couple of days and see if I can get a visa for my next country or two.

The very first line of this blog Just over a month ago, on April 25th a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal was rewritten times. When I first started writing it said 2 weeks ago, then 3 weeks, then a month, you get the point. Hopefully I'll post it today 😊

Also today, on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, become the first explorers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which at 29,035 feet above sea level is the highest point on earth.


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