The day the earth shook

The massive earthquake in Nepal claimed countless innocent lives. Kenji Kwok and Cynthia Choo, NTU interns at local English newspaper Nepali Times, give their accounts of the aftermath

It all faded to grey
By Kenji Kwok

The people of Nepal work six days a week, leaving Saturdays for family gatherings and other plans such as going out on dates. It was on 25 April, a Saturday afternoon, when a massive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck the peaceful Himalayan country, destroying buildings and homes and leaving it in a mix of chaos and desperation for the days to come.

There were absolutely no signs of the incoming destruction. We were on a company retreat at Hattiban Resort, which provided a beautiful view of the Kathmandu Valley. Two of my colleagues and I made coffee and tea as we rested in our rooms after a morning trek to Chandra Giri Hill. I lay down on the mattress on the floor and looked out the window, enjoying the afternoon with Billie Holiday’s album playing on my phone’s speakers.

Then it happened.

The floor rocked and the rooms shook violently. This was the earthquake that Nepal had been expecting but was never prepared for. Looking down at the city, the terror unfolded before our eyes.

Pockets of dust and smoke exploded into the air from different parts of the valley.
Colleagues calling their loved ones who were back in Kathmandu. There was instant relief at the end of some calls that were answered, and fear and paranoia for others.

Even though the mobile network connections failed soon after the earthquake, the WiFi connection at the resort surprisingly continued working, and we saw photos of the heartbreaking ruination from within the valley. It was the first time I saw journalists being afraid to find out more about what was happening, especially those who were unable to contact their family members.

I hesitated to inform my family initially, thinking that they might be better off not knowing what had happened. But when Singapore’s news agencies reported on the scale of the deadly earthquake, I had to tell them I was safe when I still could.

Despite having a glimpse of the devastation through photos posted online, the sights on the taxi ride back down through Kathmandu was not what I expected. Everything had changed. Where was the beautiful country of smiles and colours I saw a day ago?

There was relief upon seeing our hosts at the guesthouse. While waiting for dinner to be prepared, we shared with each other about where we were at the time of the earthquake.

We caught little sleep that night. An hour after we went to bed, a strong aftershock woke everyone up. We slept out in the open in case the building couldn’t withstand another trembler.

Most of the locals slept outdoors, fearing their homes would collapse.

It was a cold chilly night. I drifted off to sleep but that comfort was short-lived. Some locals were shouting as they ran for their lives out of Bhandarkhal garden behind Patan Durbar Square. We found out later that a tree fell in the middle of the night as a result of the aftershocks.

Then it started drizzling and so we returned indoors, only for a stronger aftershock to jolt us all awake. The whole time, we kept in touch with our supervisor and other staff from NTU, who were closely monitoring the situation through the news and checking on our wellbeing. We decided to stay on as we wanted to document the situation.

Familiar structures and buildings gone in an instant.

Over the next two days, we heard and saw the destruction caused by the earthquake as the death toll continued to rise. We carried on covering the story from the ground but, due to the unpredictability of the situation, we had to leave. We flew out on a C-130 on 27 April.

Photos: Kenji Kwok