We were luckier than most people in Kathmandu: Quake survivor

By Anil Giri,

Kathmandu : In the aftermath of the massive 7.9 earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday, there were many, many stories of hardship and misery. But among the survivors there were also those who were comparatively better off.

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One such is Esmeralda Gaba, whose husband — who works for the Unicef office in Kathmandu — was out of the country on an official trip to Pakistan.

Gaba was at the American Club in Thamel, a popular tourist area, with her two girls aged 6 and 7 when the temblor struck.

“We were terrified, of course, but the damage to the club was relatively low.”

She said that the cafeteria was damaged and the children’s pool developed cracks with water seeping out. But the walls and buildings held. No cracks were visible.

There were about 150 people at the club on Saturday morning. All of them moved out to the open compound of the Club.

“The club officials supplied us with tents, food and water. We were luckier than most people in Kathmandu,” she said. They could use the club toilets but were told not to latch doors from inside, and there was always someone standing outside in case of a big aftershock.

What worried them most throughout the night were the aftershocks which have been going on intermittently since then.

In the evening, they were joined there by about 150 other people who came looking for shelter. In the original group at the club, there were Americans, Germans, Spaniards, British and others, but those who came in were mostly Indians or Nepalese or others.

“No one was refused entry,” she said.

The next morning, Gaba left for home which falls in Chaauni area a few kilometres away. On the way she could see the extent of damage that the earthquake had wreaked.

“Buildings had fallen all over, There were huge cracks in many of them and some had been reduced to sheer rubble. In my area, over 20 percent of the buildings had disappeared,” Gabba, who is from Albania, said. She’s married to an Australia and has dual citizenship.

At home, she left her girls outside and went in to examine the damage. “Every wall had developed cracks, and things were thrown here and there,” she said. She gathered a few essentials and picked up a box supplied by Unicef which had disaster relief material.

“There was cooking material, tent, water, big bags and other material to survive in case of a disaster,” she said. She has been using the material since then.

She knew it would not be safe to stay at home, so she left for the Unicef office in Lanchaur area. There they put up their own tent in the compound, although the UN body had set up several tents for Unicef staff who had been visiting from Afghanistan and Bhutan for a conference.

Some locals also came in to stay. Food and water was arranged by the organisation, although several staff members were involved in reaching relief supplies to other affected areas in Kathmandu and elsewhere.

She said that after the initial breakdown her phone started working and she could get in touch with family members and several of her friends. She learnt that the American Embassy had accommodated about 300 people in its compound and the American Club still had about 400 people.

The French, Australian and British embassies were also accommodating several hundred people she came to know from her friends. The UN compound in Patan too had several hundred people staying there, most of them tourists. She said there were many Indians and some Pakistani citizens staying in some of these places on Saturday. But by Sunday they had started leaving and had all gone by Monday.

Gaba, who had secured tickets for herself and the girls, was waiting to fly out on Thursday evening. “I am going to stay with my parents for a month,” she said. Her home would have to be repaired or reconstructed, depending on what officials from Unicef decide.

“Though it was terrible for most residents and visitors to Nepal, some of us escaped with relatively less trouble,” says Gabba.