In the morning we headed out of Kathmandu Valley to a village where Dr Umesh has been helping for some time. All along the way the devastation of the earthquake can be seen, with twisted and broken buildings scattered between the lucky ones with no apparent damage, the ones with small cracks, those with deep and ominous cracks, and those missing parts of walls and roofs. Out of the valley it is clearer still in the rural communities that the traditional mud brick or stone walls are the most affected as they have little mortar and certainly no metal rod internal support to hold them together.
To get to the village, we leave the highway and have to cross a wire suspension bridge, passed a temporary settlement for truck drivers and their families, and up a rough dirt road. This village is well-placed to catch the sun but the villagers have only the income of their vegetable crops, which is quite meager.
We stop at one of the head’s of the village. The cement and stone building is low and modest, even more so now as the entire main living area has lost its walls. The basement below has some modest cracks but has weathered the tremors, although structurally it may be a different story. Six people live here and already other community members are helping clear the wreckage to start salvaging and rebuilding. Rumours of government support for homeowners runs between 25,000 to 40,000 rupees (AUD$330-530) per home. It won’t go far.
If the house had collapsed in its entirety, the cow and goats under the house would have been in trouble. Back in Kathmandu, 13 cows (as backyard dairy) were buried by a collapsing adjacent building. Only five could be rescued. In Nepal many people even in the city have one or two animals and small micro-farms are still important livelihoods.
After checking the animals in the village, the next call is to a small dairy back in the Kathmandu Valley. A large house has collapsed across the normal access road and it requires a detour. Other roads are also blocked due to unstable buildings. The proliferation of 4 story buildings means the risk is magnified. At the dairy we check the buildings and animals. Walls came down but the animals are all fortunately safe.
A call comes in from near Bhaktapur of an injured cow, unable to stand. When we arrive we see it is due to another wall collapse. The cow is under a temporary shelter. She wants to stand but can’t and is distressed. I fear the worst. Dr Umesh methodically checks for injuries and the cause of the problem. Fortunately he finds it is only a broken rib and bruising and slight lacerations on her back from falling bricks. She is given analgesia for the pain and some other medication to help her mend. We will revisit and follow up. She also needs her hoofs trimmed as they are terribly overgrown. Family and friends gather around and are relieved that the cow will recover. A young girl sweeps biting insects from her side.
We are near Dr Umesh’s friend Dr Pranav who we were with a few days ago. We ring and go out to discuss the new program that starts tomorrow. International animal groups and locals met recently to organize a search and care program to ensure all parts of the valley and beyond are examined. With still few calls coming in from the public, this kind of coordination, that can still be difficult to set up in the west, is even more important here. Dr Umesh and others will be looking at the Lalitpur area, while Dr Pranav will be in this area. Obviously people will cross areas when needs must.
On our return to Kopan we pass through Bhaktapur town. The devastation is really beyond words. People are now walking around despite the cracks, crooked walls, leaning edifices and recent carnage. The stories from here of the trauma, chaos, howling grief are quite frightening. Corpses piled seven deep at the crematorium, people carrying horribly broken victims in front of their family members to makeshift ambulances to arrive at overrun hospitals… yet on a dry afternoon rescue workers returning from their shifts mix with residents seemingly strolling along taking in the beautiful weather and the old town.
Between Bhaktapur and the old part of Thimi there are sections of high rise older buildings completely devastated and crippled. This really is a gargantuan task for Nepal. As darkness falls and the dust continues to worsen the sense of the overwhelming is hard to push down.