Even when Shaun Monty finds a moment to rest, the chaos around him doesn’t stop.
“When you lay down, your heartbeat even feels like an earthquake tremor,” he says.
The aftershocks from Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal have kept entire cities and villages on edge, shaking the ground and nerves alike at a rate of about one per hour. And those aftershocks are registering as fives and sixes on the Richter scale.
“Mental tensions have definitely increased as a result of the quake as well,” Monty says. “Over the past two days, there have been over 100 aftershocks felt here. With a frequency like that, you kind of always feel dizzy and on edge.”
Monty is in Pokhara, a large city of about a quarter million people, about 80 km from the epicentre of the big quake. It’s a mecca for tourists, seeing hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Many of them are backpackers, climbers and hikers like Monty, who have been drawn to the bountiful beauty of Nepal and, of course, Mount Everest.
Monty, an avid hiker from Chilliwack, arrived in Pokhara on April 21 after making a trek to the Everest Base Camp. He attempted the 3 Passes circuit, and was turned away from two of the three passes due to bad weather. He wasn’t there to summit the mountain, he says, but to experience a thrilling climb.
Now, that trip of a lifetime has turned into an impromptu humanitarian aid mission, working alongside fellow Canadian backpackers, and like-minded travelers from Australia and the United States. Two in the group are also from Chilliwack, Robertson Mackenzie and Ashleigh Brooks.
“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).”
But they’ve also gathered together to create a fundraiser that will direct money to those in desperate need of shelter. By Tuesday morning, officials announced that at least 4,000 were killed in the earthquake — a number that’s expected to climb as rescuers sort through the rubble of decimated buildings. But the general state of destruction throughout the country means that millions of Nepalese have been displaced.
The timing is tragic. In less than one month, the monsoon rains will arrive and continue to fall for an average of 110 consecutive days and nights. It’s already been raining every night, drenching those forced to live in open areas, seeking makeshift shelter under tarps and tents.
“As you can imagine, shelter should be very high on the priority list for relief efforts.”
Monty and others spoke with the vice president of the Nepal Red Cross earlier this week, and learned that at least 2,000 families in the area of Pokhara have had their homes damaged or completely destroyed.
“Each of these families for example need three tarps for shelter,” he says. “Red Cross has sent 600 tarps so far (enough for 200 families) but local supplies are already dried up.”
Pokhara was not hit as badly as Kathmandu, but the realities of life in a poorer country have been made more obvious in this time of great need.
“Many small villages you can only access by multiple days on foot, which now becomes impossible with landslides,” he explains. “So for those remote places helicopters are needed, which is very costly for such a poor country. That is one of the reasons we set up this fund.”
Their goal is to raise $10,000. By Tuesday morning, after only one day, they had reached about $5,000. That money will go directly toward helping purchase tarps and blankets as forms of rudimentary shelter to help residents of villages through the rainy season ahead.
The group of travelers has also forged into villages to see the devastation firsthand, to better be able to help and to spread the word of the need there.
They asked Sansita Kunwar, from the Chisopani village, “do you not feel afraid?”
“I’m feeling afraid,” Kunwar answered. “We don’t know in which second it’s our turn to die. Some say we are in danger for one week, some say for one month. We don’t know.”
On Tuesday, they traveled to villages in the Gorkha region, near the epicentre of the earthquake.
“In the afternoon it started to rain heavily and we were invited to join a group of about 40 Nepalis who were gathered under a makeshift shelter of two tarps held up with string,” the group writes in a Facebook message to The Progress. “Rain water poured in as people hurried to dig trenches and tie down the small tarps that we’re getting caught in the wind. Just a few hours were spent sheltering with these people but there was a remarkable amount of kindness shown. They made space for two more bodies in their overcrowded space, offered tea and apologized for not being able to invite anyone into their homes. We left as the rain started to let up, knowing that these families would be living together under this small shelter as the monsoon season approaches.”
The villages are filled with emotions, and have left some in the group speechless.
One of the Canadians in Pokhara is a physiotherapist. He’s one of many medical professionals trying to help deal with the onslaught of injured people.
“He has been helping to coordinate things and also has a team of medical professionals in Bangladesh he is bringing here,” Monty says. “All of the emergency response teams otherwise are being deployed to Kathmandu to help there. The problem that they are running into here is that there is no help coming to Pokhara. Everyone injured in the Gorkha region and the surrounding areas around here is being helicoptered to Pokhara but there is no help coming for the doctors and hospitals. Medical supplies are running out fast, and they are quickly over run when the helicopter loads of injured arrive. They don’t even have spinal boards for spinal injuries!”
Those who are not injured are sleeping in the open, afraid to re-enter homes that are damaged, and not knowing when the next big quake will hit.
“I was in a fairly new building when the earthquake hit and and I ran down the stairs I watched giant cracks ripple down the cement walls. So many people (justifiably so) feel it’s safer, or have no option but to sleep outside,” Monty says.
To find the link to the fundraising page, click here.
To see the Backpackers for Nepal Facebook page, click here.