Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Nepal earthquake: We had been warned

[LA Times] Images coming out of Nepal's devastating earthquake on Saturday reminded me of another earthquake of similar magnitude that occurred 81 years ago. That earthquake of 1934, or nabbey salko bhuichalo, as it was referred to throughout my childhood in Katmandu, had acquired an air of a legend, delivered in black-and-white photos of men and women in traditional garb standing amid the rubble.
But the 1934 earthquake, which killed more than 10,000 people, was a thing of the past, recalled by old folks, resurrected only in history books and works of fiction. History came alive on Saturday at 5 a.m. when I opened my laptop to write, in Bloomington, Ind., and saw the news.
I awoke my wife, who through bleary eyes looked at me in disbelief as I told her, "This is a big one." The next few hours were spent in frantic attempts to contact our loved ones in Katmandu; first and foremost my parents, whose old age makes them vulnerable, and my wife's mother, a widow, who lives in a tall building.
For many Nepali expatriates, attachment to the homeland is fierce. I love America, but Nepal is my home —it's a landscape I have returned to in all of my novels and short stories. And every year I return in person, with my MFA students. Last year we went up to the Himalayan region of Mustang, where my students bathed in the icy cold water from the 108 springs around Muktinath Temple, situated at 12,000 feet. Throughout the trip I was moved by Nepal's beauty and moved even more by the kindness of the Nepalis we encountered, from the old grandma who served us food at Hotel Bob Marley in Muktinath, to the hotel owner in the resort town of Pokhara who went out of his way to arrange transport for us.
That such calamity would befall such generous people is heart-rending. The initial quake on Saturday has been followed by countless aftershocks that have everyone panicked. Reports are coming in of entire villages laid waste in the mountains. My parents, with whom communication has been difficult because of erratic phone connections and lack of electricity, are camped out in rain on a small field near their home on the outskirts of Katmandu. My mother-in-law is staying with one of her daughters.
We had been warned. In the early '90s, when I returned to live in Nepal for two years, the country experienced mild earthquakes. Articles appeared in newspapers claiming that a major earthquake was imminent. The reason: movement of tectonic plates in the Himalayas, the very process that created those mountain peaks of stunning beauty in the first place. Concerns were raised about lack of preparedness, especially with the alarming growth of shoddily constructed buildings. But these prophesies of a major trembler didn't come true. I was among those who thought the experts were exaggerating. Read More

Nepal Earthquake, How to Help:
UNICEF www.unicef.org
Red Cross www.redcross.org
Mercy Corps www.mercycorps.org
Save the Children www.savethechildren.org
Oxfam www.oxfamamerica.org
Doctors Without Borders www.doctorswithoutborders.org
CARE www.care.org
International Medical Corps internationalmedicalcorps.org