Chilliwack hikers’ trip to Nepal turns into humanitarian mission

Trio of Chilliwack hikers spurred to action after earthquake decimates Nepal's cities and villages

Chilliwack's Shaun Monty was backpacking with friends in Nepal when a 7.9 earthquake struck the country on Saturday.

A trio of Chilliwack residents were visiting the Nepalese city of Pokhara when a 7.6 earthquake hit the region Saturday.

Now, what began as a dream backpacking trip has turned into a quest for humanitarian aid. Pokhara, a city of a quarter million residents, is about 80 km from the earthquake’s epicentre. While it hasn’t been hit as hard as Kathmandu, homes have been destroyed, families are burying their loved ones, and the tremors haven’t stopped.

Shaun Monty, Robertson Mackenzie and Ashleigh Brooks were in Pokhara when the shaking started.

Monty says he was in a newer building at the time, but that it still became unsafe during the massive tremor.

“I ran down the stairs and watched giant cracks ripple down the cement walls,” he said. On Monday morning, as communications were being restored throughout Nepal, he spoke with The Progress through social media.

Everyone in his party is safe, he says, but by Monday afternoon the death toll from Kathmandu and other affected cities and villages hit 4,000. That number is expected to rise in the coming days, but it’s the homelessness that will continue to cripple Nepal over the next few months, and that’s where Monty and other travelers are hoping to help. They have connected with the Nepal Red Cross to find out what the basic needs are, and have used their own social networking skills to kick off an online fundraiser.

Funds are needed for shelter, as the monsoon season inches closer; once the rains start, they’ll continue for about 110 days.

“We are all healthy and safe,” Monty says. “During the quake there was a lot of screaming and crying in the streets. People were in shock just sitting in the road. But the traveling community, despite being from across the globe, is a surprisingly close bunch and everyone immediately was helping each other. Whether it was giving water to those in shock, or simply a comforting hug (Nepali or not).”

Aftershocks have been coming at least once an hour, he says, and show no signs of stopping yet. The smaller, but still  significant, tremors are rattling nerves.

“Mental tensions have definitely increased as a result of the quake as well,” he says. “Over the past two days there have been over 100 aftershocks felt here, at least one most hours and of varying magnitudes (quite a few rated over 5 and even 6 on the Richter scale). With a frequency like that, you kind of always feel dizzy and on edge.

“When you lay down your heartbeat even feels like an earthquake tremor. I think it’s that mental drain that also helped stimulate us coming together to do more to help. You can’t just sit around and wait for the roads or airports to open and let you leave. Having a project like this gives more meaning and purpose to our time stuck here.”

They are part of a group of backpackers, journalists and photographers who are hoping to raise $10,000. On Monday, they had raised $2,360.

Right now, it’s raining in the night and many people are in tents or sleeping in cars.

“During my chat with the Vice President of the Nepal Red Cross today I learned that over 2,000 families in the immediate area have had either damaged or completely destroyed homes,” Monty says. “Each of these families for example need three tarps for shelter. Red Cross has sent 600 tarps so far (enough for 200 families) but local supplies are already dried up.”

They hope their fundraiser will fill the gap, offering rudimentary shelter — the highest priority for living through the non-stop downpour of the monsoons.

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