Anger rises in Nepal at pace of government reaction to disaster

600,000 houses destroyed or damaged after earthquake, writes Clifford Coonan, in Nepal

Nepal's Armed Police Force rescue a teenage boy from the collapsed Hilton Hotel in Kathmandu five days after an earthquake hit the country. VIdeo: Reuters

 

Sirens blaring, the ambulance revs into the courtyard of the Gorkha hospital from the nearby village of Panch Kuwa Durali, transporting a teenage boy who is one of the thousands devastated by the epic Himalayan tragedy that struck Nepal on April 25th.

The boy’s arm is badly fractured but it will be okay, the doctors say, as a team of Indian and Swiss medics took him away for treatment.

The mighty snow-capped Ganesh Himal looks down on Gorkha, an historic capital in Nepalese history located in one of the most beautiful places on this planet, but the district was the epicentre of the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that tore Nepal apart at 11.56am last Saturday.

The city is now the focus for people from remote villages looking for help, trucks carrying supplies chug up and down its dusty streets, and a helicopter brings succour to those too remote to find it elsewhere.

Chij Maya Gureng (35), from the village of Simjung is lying on a mat outside the hospital, surrounded by her family. Her eye is red, her face badly bruised. She is clearly in pain, groaning as she lies on the pallet.

“She was sitting near the house when part of the roof fell upon her. Her seven-year-old son, her father-in-law and her brother-in-law’s son of 11 all died, they were all crushed inside the house,” said Dhan Maya Gureng, her daughter-in-law.

Hospital

Her daughters Rupi (9) and Nita (10) are beside her, combing their hair.

“There was no one to help her there in the village. Her leg is immobile, she has problems with her eye, and her hands are also injured,” said Gureng. “They stayed in a field for three days, with no tents, fearing the building would collapse.

Bilkha Bahadur Gurung, a neighbour who works in Saudi Arabia and was home on holiday, brings food to the women.

“There is nothing in our village now. Five people died, eight people were injured and all 20 houses in the village were destroyed.

“There is no house standing,” he said. “In time we will rebuild, or maybe it will stay deserted.”

The chances of finding more survivors are fading as the death toll exceeded 5,500, but the injured are still coming in for treatment from these villages, and they have been waiting for nearly a week.

Nepal graphic

It wasn’t all grim news yesterday. Pema Lama (15) was pulled to safety from the ruins of a guesthouse in Kathmandu after five days trapped in the rubble, and the news gave the spirits a boost but these stories are increasingly rare.

Many people have been sleeping in the open since Saturday’s earthquake. According to the United Nations, 600,000 houses have been destroyed or damaged.

There are long queues to get buses out to the provinces to see relatives, and some buses are travelling packed with people, some sitting on top of the vehicles.

Some eight million people have been affected, with at least two million in need of tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.

At the hospital, government adviser Dr Bijan Pant is rushing back to Kathmandu for a crisis meeting with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

“We are assessing the situation and trying find out the most vulnerable areas in terms of casualties and buildings. I would like to know more details,” said Dr Pant, who was accompanied by a number of overseas experts.

Casualties

“It will go up for sure. We haven’t been able to get into the centre yet, we are still at the periphery,” he said.

There is much anger among local people at the slow pace of the rescue in some areas, with Nepalis accusing the government of being too slow to distribute international aid that has flooded into the country, including aid from Ireland.

Gorkha is a famously resilient part of Nepal. This is where British and Indian armies have long recruited the tough Gurkha soldiers.

Nurse Binisha Magar (28) said that most of the injuries at the hospital were head injuries, fractures.

By yesterday the hospital had seen 260 patients, of whom 11 had died and 75 had been referred to other hospitals.The doctors are Swiss and Indian.

“The patients started arriving one hour after the quake. We have enough medical supplies and international donations have been helpful, but there are not enough beds,” she said, pointing at the mats on the ground.

Dr Chandan Kumar Jha is one of the Indian doctors at the hospital, a Red Cross specialist who was working closely with a team of uniformed doctors from the Indian army.

“What we are seeing is what happens when a rock falls on you. Head injuries. Chest and inter-abdominal injuries. Many were unable to escape the site for several days, young children, elderly people unable to move,” said Dr Jha, who is from the state of Bihar.

“They will recover but the psychological stress, the trauma, will stay with them. It’s not easy to bring everyone back to their original condition but we do our best. We have the skills and the willpower.”

Other injuries include amputations because of gangrene, a problem with people who have gone untreated for longer periods.

Manu Maya Rokka, who guesses she is around 60, is working as a dishwasher in the Vision Hotel. She had 12 children, two died, nine have moved away and all she has left at home is her daughter.

“My daughter has been paralysed since she was1½ and is 30 now. After the quake she was covered with stones and bleeding from different parts of her body, her nose, her head. My husband is mentally ill for the past five years,” said Ms Rokka.

House destroyed

“I have to go back to the place because of my daughter. We are quite poor, so I’m hoping for help to at least build a hut,” said Ms Rokka.

Kaman Singh (39), from Kasigaun, has brought his father in to have treatment for his arm, broken in the quake. He has been working in a restaurant in Britain, but came back to his home village, Kasigaun, as visa issues are resolved.

“My house is completely finished. The town of 400 houses is destroyed. Around 50 people were injured and 10 are dead. We still haven’t found everyone,” he said.

“We will rebuild it, a new house. But it’s difficult. There are landslides. And if you need to work in the fields, you can’t build a house. Very difficult.”