After the Earthquake Part 3: The Politics and Money of Rescue

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

The morning of April 28th dawned clear and sunny. We had had another fairly comfortable night. We were really lucky throughout the whole ordeal with weather at night. It was cold, but not too cold; it never froze. We were able to use the blankets and mats from the village which helped tremendously.

We all got up, wondering what the day would bring. It was really a beautiful morning, and we tried to enjoy the lovely sun through the trees! There were not many other projects we could think of to do. The two of us ended up working on one of what was becoming a daily job: herding cattle. There were several cows who lived at Bamboo village who had started to become a nuisance. They became quite nosy and tried to steal the food from our kitchen area. While the villagers were still there, we had observed that the cows were driven up the trail toward the beach (on which we had built a helicopter pad) during the day and came back near the village in the evening, so to get them out of our space we tried to keep this pattern going.  To get them to move, we picked up the sticks and began  yelling at them and tapping their behinds.

We finally got the cows headed over the bridge toward the beach and headed back toward Bamboo. Suddenly we heard a noise. There had been many helicopters that had flown over camp in the prior days, but they were all high in the sky. We all hoped that if they weren’t stopping for us then at least they were heading up to rescue people who had been stranded higher on the trail where it was higher and colder. But this one sounded different. We came over the rise and were overjoyed at what we saw. A helicopter was flying up the valley towards us. It was low… it was going to land!

The first helicopter landed at about 8 am on April 28th

The first helicopter landed at about 8 am on April 28th

We broke into a run, simultaneously laughing and crying. We were going to be rescued!! The mood at camp was amazing, people laughing, calling out in joy, hugging, even jumping up and down. It was wonderful! We hurriedly helped Willem, the man with the broken arm, to collect his things and head down the hill. The other people we had all assumed would be in the first helicopter, including the Nepali guide with a head injury, a slightly older woman from Maine, and her guide and his 16 year old son, also collected their things. There was hugging and promises of messages to be taken away and a lot of tears.

But, most of that turned out to be unnecessary. Even as the people we assumed were going first had started moving down toward the smaller helipads, we noticed that the trekkers from Japan had quickly collected their already packed baggage, and raced down the hill with their guide. They crammed into the helicopter and it took off, leaving the rest of us completely confused.

“What happened??” was the question on everyone’s lips, followed quickly by “Are they coming back?!”

One of the girls had been close enough to the helicopter to get a few details. Apparently the helicopter had been sent by the Japanese tour office and the pilot had been their guide’s brother, so they were only taking that group. She did say that they had said they would be back!

We all considered this and it seemed to make sense. We all believed that a helicopter would return for the rest of us. We seriously began to think about how we could be packed and ready to go should they arrive again. For us, that meant putting the most important of our possessions on our bodies (IDs, cameras, money, warm clothing, and our Steripen). We packed the next most important things in our small backpack (food, more warm clothing, etc.) and left what we judged to be least important in our large pack. This was all in case we were told that we couldn’t take our bags with us (hopefully we could fit more people if there were fewer bags?)

We waited for what seemed like forever. That first helicopter had come just before 8 am. Our hopes were again raised at about 10 am when another helicopter appeared. They were coming back for the rest of us!!

The second helicopter to arrive

The second helicopter to arrive

This time we were ready. All of the injured and the rest of whom we had deemed to be the first group were close to the helipads with their stuff. But, as we watched from above, they didn’t get in. There was some delay. What was happening?

Why aren't they getting in?

Why aren’t they getting in?

That’s when the message was passed up to those of us waiting above: the helicopter had been sent by an Israeli insurance company, so all the Israelis needed to come down and be ready to leave. Our hearts sank again.

While we were not there to hear it, we saw from afar that our group of Israelis had convinced their helicopter to take our two injured men out with their first group who left right away. There was a man, a coordinator, who worked for the Israeli insurance company who stayed on the ground after that first helicopter left. (At least we knew it would come back!)

He did come up to talk to the rest of us. However, the message was not really what we wanted to hear. He worked for a private insurance company, and his job was to evacuate all Israelis out of the valley. He had been further up the valley and the destruction there was absolute. We were all horrified to hear that there had been terrible avalanches at towns further up the trek at Kyanjin Gompa and Langtang. Tears sprang to our eyes as he explained that the town of Langtang was leveled, destroyed completely. It had been overrun by a massive sheet of mud and ice. There was little left there. He told us that the roads into the mountains were also destroyed. He did tell us that if we could make it to Dhunche (a two days walk), we could be evacuated from there. We all looked at him in disbelief… Walk? Through the constant landslides for two days?? Really?

When the helicopter came back, we were relieved that the coordinator had been convinced to take the woman from Maine and her two guides (a father and son) along with two Israelis. The next time it came back, there was only room for four, and there were six Israelis remaining, so Aviv and his trekking partner Yonatan agreed to wait until the next trip. Aviv had handed over control of the satellite messaging device to a few non-Israelis, but it still seemed like they had chosen to be the last since they felt a responsibility to the rest of us. But then the clouds and rain moved in for the rest of the day, and no more helicopters came… meaning their rescue along with ours was delayed until at least the next day.

Needless to say, we were all disappointed… terrified and heartbroken might be more apt. As a group, we realized that we needed to be more active on the sat device. If we were only going to be evacuated by country, we were all going to need a lot more help from home. It was at this time that Della sent a message to her dad… one that ended up being spread all across social media, which might have helped in our eventual rescue. It read:

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Della remembers being in tears when she wrote this message. In some ways, we hate to say this, but we still thought that the US would come get us. Not all of the trekkers felt this way about their own governments, and it was frankly hard to believe that a government would send a helicopter for only one of its citizens. We did have several people who were the only person from their country there.

It’s hard to accurately describe the roller coaster of feelings we felt this day. Our emotions were already very heightened by the anxiety and constant fear. Then we were at a miraculous high when the helicopters arrived which swooped to a super low when they left… without us.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to comfort each other and keep our spirits up.

Sara, from Italy, made a delicious lunch of pasta that day. One spark of hope arrived at that time. Sara had been trekking with friends and was planning on meeting her boyfriend in the town of Rimche the evening of the earthquake (Rimche had been our planned destination of the night as well). In the days following the earthquake, she had no idea whether her boyfriend was alive or dead, or where he might be. While she was cooking lunch that day, in the midst of a camp of depression, she got news via the sat device that he was alive and well in the town of Syabrubensi! (Check out the NGO that the couple has founded to help Nepal).

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The rain came in that afternoon, causing us all to retreat to the tarp (and causing the Israeli helicopter not to return). We were all quiet, still feeling quite down and hopeless. But, Sara got out her ukulele.

We’ll always be grateful to her for the sing-a-long she led as the clouds came in covering our camp in a gloomy mist. It built our spirits and our group strength quite a bit.

We were grateful to have Aviv and Yonatan there with us one more night. It allowed us all to get used to the idea that we were going to be without their leadership soon. In their decision to stay (and to help convince their helicopter to take our injured, old, and young) they became heroes at home. We found out that evening that the story in Israel was that they had “refused to be rescued.” In fact, the following day, they received a message via sat device to ask if they would be “willing to evacuate” if the chopper returned!

So that night, the group was down to 27 people. We thought it might be nice to get back under the big tarp for sleeping. The area we had been sleeping comfortably the last two nights was under a hole in the less good tarp and after the afternoon rain was quite wet. We attempted to squeeze in to the rows of people sleeping under the big tarp, but it turned out it was really just too tight. We couldn’t stand it. So, we stole one blanket and headed off by ourselves. We found a place where it wasn’t wet. It also wasn’t at all flat… or comfortable. Still we could breathe, so we were able to get a little bit of sleep.

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See that spot on the mat… on the hill between the rocks. Yup, we slept there.

The following morning, April 29, again dawned bright and beautiful. The group all awoke with a new purpose: contact the outside to our loved ones directly using the sat device and get ourselves help. The two of us specifically had one more reason to be optimistic, as we had received a message from Della’s dad. It said something to the effect of: no matter what you hear, be ready to get on a chopper at any moment. It will either be a small one from the US Embassy or a large one from the Nepali Army.

This was both a welcome and dreaded message for us. We were thrilled that the US might be sending some help our way. However, we couldn’t stand the thought of facing another issue of politics or money (only our own citizens or only those who paid would be rescued).

This day was spent with some silly projects as most of the important ones were done. We made a comfortable spot near the water fire that we called the cafe. And yes, signs were made to memorialize our different places. People enjoyed each others’ company under the tarp or chatted together in the sun. Journals were written in and naps were taken. At some point, people began to learn and practice acro-yoga! Della made an attempt to clean herself up a bit… after days of not showering. One of the highlights was a delicious dal baht made by the guides. It was the best we’ve ever had.

There were moments where it felt like we were just on a fun camping trip with friends… except that the ground would still shake occasionally and every now and then you’d hear rocks fall up or down the canyon. And helicopters were flying high over our heads almost constantly.

This made our next task seem clear… though daunting. We knew at this point that the Israeli chopper would be coming back once again sometime that day. We knew that Aviv and Yonatan would go, but that would leave two more spots on the chopper. We all agreed that an elderly French couple should be the ones to go with them. However, after that, there was no reason or order that seemed clear for the rest of us.

So, we decided to draw lots. We split ourselves into groups of four that seemed to make sense (our group comprised of the three Americans who were left, us and Corey, and Corey’s trekking partner Kees). After this was done, we numbered each group. Then we pulled numbers out of a hat (actually it was out of a hand… but still). Della ended up drawing the numbers. It’s hard to know what to feel as this happened, hoping that your group will be first, but also dreading the feeling of potentially leaving everyone else behind. Della managed to pull our group last…

Because of the message we had received from Della’s dad earlier, we knew that if the US sent the helicopter, that there was also a chance we’d be the first… or the only. So, there it was. We’d be first or last to leave. It was a little hard to sit with.

Finally, about 5 pm on the 29th, the Israeli chopper arrived to pick up its last load. It went smoothly; they agreed to take our two remaining Israelis as well as the French couple. Apparently, that meant that the coordinator had to stay. We had a brief moment of hope thinking that they would have to take more people with them when they came back to pick him up. However, the coordinator told us that they actually had to head up the valley to continue the rescue in Langtang and Kyanjin Gompa. We were glad that the people up there were going to continue to get rescued… until we realized he was lying. The helicopter returned, he got in, and they headed down (not up) the valley, with at least two open seats.

We were angry and frustrated yet again. But, we were slightly comforted by some of the beautiful views of the mountains that evening afforded.

Beautiful

Beautiful

Perhaps we will be rescued tomorrow, we thought, as we settled into another night.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

9 thoughts on “After the Earthquake Part 3: The Politics and Money of Rescue

  1. Hello Della,Hey, I love being called the “slightly older woman from Maine”!!!  Yay! Takes at least 10 years off me :))Hope all is well. I am enjoying your blogs very much.Namaste.Kathleen

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