Even now, as I write this, a car door shut makes my heart jump to my throat. Any loud or a sudden sound, and my inner alarm for another tremor makes me react. My mind tells me it’s alright but my body is ready to run, ready to escape out from the building, where it’s safe, where I won’t die under collapsing concrete.
It has been more than a week since it happened. We had returned back to our hotel right after breakfast. Usually we always go out to explore and visit temples and markets, but that Saturday we decided to just stay back and look for flights back home from Kathmandu.
We were lying in bed with the laptop when out of the blue the whole room began to tremble.
The bed, the walls, the whole 3 storied hotel turned into shaking jelly. The hotel room was swaying sideways like a tall tree in a strong wind.
The tremble was so strong we could not move, just trying to keep balance. I was holding Vivian’s hand, screaming how we have to get out, while looking up terrified for the walls and the roof to fall on us.
But they didn’t.
After maybe 15 seconds the earthquake stopped. We ran downstairs and out of the hotel immediately. Others were doing the same. I saw all the wine and liquor bottles broken on the floor while we passed the hotel restaurant, the walls and the ground had cracks on them. I could not believe this all just happened. All I could think was what if this is not over yet?
Right then we felt it again, tremor in the ground. An aftershock not as big as the quake but big enough to shake everything around us. Vivian grabbed my hand and we just ran through the rubble and broken glass.
The first thought was to get out of Thamel and to an open space. The buildings in Thamel area are very tall and the streets narrow, it was scary just to try and get out of the area, I kept looking up in fear that something would fall or a building might collapse.
We found an open area just two streets away, where there were already many others too, locals and tourists. It was a car parking area with no tall buildings around, so it felt safer.
I had no idea that this would be the beginning of the worst 48 hours of my life.
Standing there in the car park felt unreal. It was noon and the sky was blue; people were confused and trying to make phone calls or send messages but there was no network.
Vivian was holding me in his arms telling me that everything is fine now, it’s over, and we should just wait for a while in this safe open area. I realized he had run out from the hotel without shoes, he was barefoot and freezing. We had only grabbed one bag with the laptop and camera, locked the door and jolted out.
There we were, just standing and looking around us, not knowing what’s next. Vivian was watching the crows; they were all sitting on the tip of the branches, it looked like the tree was covered with black leaves.
Suddenly the sky turned dark with crows and a second later the car in front of me began to bounce. Everyone around us braced themselves for the shock and squatted down. The ground trembled up, down and sideways again. It felt like the whole town was moving sideways. This was another strong one, the aftershock around 12.15 pm that shook us all for 4 to 5 seconds, big enough to move cars.
From then I knew it wasn’t over, we were not safe to go back.
Smaller aftershocks kept coming but around 2.30 in the afternoon we thought to return to our hotel to get warm clothes and shoes, even though the idea of going back in the middle of those cracked buildings was scary.
It was terrifying to walk between the high buildings again. Everyone was evacuating from the Thamel area and we were the only ones going in. Walking up to the second floor made me dizzy and I was almost in tears when we finally got out. We still only took one small bag and just enough clothes to survive with.
Back at the car park we heard people going to the British Embassy for shelter. A group of volunteer workers had made contact with the embassy and were getting updates and news about the situation. Every one seemed to be ready to either camp the night out or trying to go and find their own embassies.
We decided to do the same, soon it would get dark and we had to find a shelter for the night, it was going to get really cold.
The British embassy wasn’t far away. They told us that I, being a Finnish citizen, could get in and find shelter and help but Vivian would have to turn to the Indian Embassy near by. No matter what, I would stay with Vivian, so we continued towards the Indian Embassy. There they were not letting anyone in. Instead they offered to drop us to the airport or to let us stay at the military guesthouse nearby.
Neither of these options were apt for us. We were stuck. Airport was out of the question because my passport was held in the Indian Visa Centre; I had left it there for a new Visa to India a week back. We were also scared to stay indoors in any guesthouse.
It was getting dark and we had no place to go. Roaming around the streets not knowing where to go and just looking for any open area again, we found four locals who told us about the Radisson hotel near by which apparently was giving out blankets and shelter for people.
It sounded too good to be true, but we set out to see if we could spend the night there. This turned out to be a life saver.
At Radisson we found a lobby full of people, both the hotel guests and others seeking shelter. Many had set a camp in the open area just outside the hotel. Everyone had extra blankets and pillows, the lights were on and even the dinner buffet was being served. Radisson and its staff were unbelievably hospitable to take us “walk-in refugees” in.
We felt rescued.
We managed to get Internet to message everyone we are fine. The hotel even had an earthquake detector that beeped from every big or small tremor.
This beeping continued the whole night. Every 20 minutes, even less sometimes we all felt the aftershocks, heard the alarm and ran out in panic.
Many could not sleep inside because of fear. Us too, we tried to sleep outside, but the rain drove us back in. It was a nightmare, every time I closed my eyes, I could feel tremors in the floor. Neither of us slept that night.
Only after reaching Radisson, we came to know how big this all was. The lobby had a working TV and we begun to see broadcasts from Nepal and abroad about the whole situation.
We had survived a 7.9 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter only 80 kilometers away from us and Kathmandu. The death toll was rising by the hours we followed the news. Durbar Square, the Monkey Temple, Patan, they were all in ruins. Not to mention the area in Gorkha, where it was the most devastating.
Watching all this from the news was heartbreaking. We were extremely lucky nothing had happened to us and that we were able to reach our families to tell them we are safe. Over the next days we stayed in Kathmandu, trying to get our luggage and my passport back while desperately looking for a way out of the country too. We met people with incredible stories, made friends with others in similar situation. We witnessed loss, death and families mourning, but also incredible generosity, optimism and willpower for survival and a better tomorrow.
We are working on a short documentary of everything we experienced during those days including incredible stories of other survivors we met.
As I write this, my heart is still in pain. Nepal and its people are going through a nightmare. Many have lost everything and there is a lack food, shelter and sanitation. Nepal needs all of us now, if you read this I ask you to seek a way to contribute and help as much as you can.
This is us outside Radisson, right before leaving to the airport hoping to get tickets back home. Happy to be alive and together.