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‘I survived. My family did not’: Nepal’s quake victims mourn and wait for aid

Early on Saturday morning, Haris Bishwakarma learned he had become the sole guardian of his eight-year-old sister. His parents and two young brothers were killed in the powerful earthquake that hit Nepal last Friday evening.

The 17-year-old, from Chiuri village in Jajarkot district, was working in India to earn money to pay for his siblings’ education when he got the call. “I could not believe it. Immediately I took the bus, praying the news was not true.

“My parents could not afford to send me to school, so I did not get a chance to study even to basic level. But we thought that we can send my younger brothers and sister to school if we work hard – that’s why I went to India for work.”

He had hoped to return home for the Hindu festival of Dashain at the end of October, but decided it would be better to be “earning more and coming home next year”. Now he says: “I wish I had come and met my mother and father.”

Eighteen members of my family are living under a tarpaulin. We have received nothing

Bisnu Raj Jyoti, survivor

Bishwakarma’s family were among 13 people in his village killed in the 5.6-magnitude earthquake that struck remote western hill districts at 11.47pm. Tremors were felt in the capital, Kathmandu, and as far as Delhi, 500 miles away in India.

The UN said the seismic event was the deadliest in Nepal since the quakes in 2015 that killed 9,000 people.

At least 153 people have been killed, with 345 injured and about 12,000 families left homeless across seven districts, according to a preliminary report from the Nepal Red Cross Society. The most casualties were recorded in Jajarkot, the epicentre of the quake, and neighbouring Rukum West district. Efforts are continuing to recover the dead.

Many people are sleeping in the open in freezing temperatures as the government and relief agencies struggle to get aid into the remote region, one of Nepal’s poorest. The Red Cross said it had distributed 1,500 tarpaulins and blankets, and 1,700 mattresses to the two worst-affected districts.

An aerial view shows collapsed houses in Chiuri
An aerial view shows collapsed houses in Chiuri. Some villages are so remote it can take days for aid workers to reach them. Photograph: Prabin Ranabhat/AFP/Getty Images

But Anil Maharjan, a Red Cross emergency operation centre officer, says relief efforts are being hindered by “very limited resources” and “very challenging” travel conditions.

Bisnu Raj Jyoti, from Ranidanda village in Jajarkot, says that, five days after the quake, no help has yet arrived. “Eighteen members of my family are living under a homemade tarpaulin, including my 81-year-old mother and six-year-old child,” he says.

“My house collapsed. We have received nothing from anyone. What is the government doing?

“Hundreds of people are living like my family. Old people like my mother and children are suffering with no proper food, clothes and tent. Even the water supply has been blocked by the earthquake, and we have not got any help to fix it.”

Narayan Prasad Bhattarai, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, admits the relief programme has been slow. “The first two days, we were focused on rescue and treatment because saving lives is more important. Then we started working on aid distribution. We had a challenging time on rescue because of the geography and weather.

“The problem is that this area is very remote, hilly, and in so many places the roads were blocked by landslides. In some areas, it takes hours to reach one place from another. Aid workers might have to walk hours or days to reach victims. That’s why it is taking time.”

Women hug small children on a hillside at night
Families shelter in the open in Rukum West for fear of aftershocks following Friday’s earthquake. Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA

Bhattarai adds that all those affected should receive some aid within the next couple of days. “Our focus is on providing them basic things so they will not have to sleep in the open,” she says.

The UN says it is working with the authorities to help those affected. The UN children’s agency, Unicef, said on Tuesday it had distributed hygiene kits, water purifiers and tarpaulins to 2,000 families in Jajarkot, and set up two medical tents. It has also sent water and sanitation supplies to Rukum West.

They say a big earthquake is yet to come. We are very scared

Man Bahadur Malla, survivor

Saraswati Jaisi, 60, from Chhepare village in Rukum West, lost her 30-year-old daughter-in-law and three young grandchildren when her house collapsed. “It was midnight. I was sleeping with my three grandchildren and their mother. Suddenly it started shaking, and within a minute our house collapsed.

“Some of my neighbours came and rescued me from the rubble. I survived but all my family could not,” she says.

Jaisi says she received two blankets, a tarpaulin, a mattress, a few kilos of rice and 25,000 Nepali rupees (£150) to help meet funeral costs. But she has not seen a doctor about the injuries she sustained when her house collapsed. “The health post nearby does not have any facilities, and I don’t have the energy and money to go to [distant] big hospitals.”

Jaisi’s neighbour, Man Bahadur Malla 35, lost his 12-year-old daughter when their house collapsed. His wife and three other children were rescued. “Now we are living in the paddy field. I and my family are so scared to go near our house because there are still many aftershocks coming.

“They say a big earthquake is yet to come. We are very scared,” he says. More than 380 aftershocks have been reported since Friday’s quake.

Prof Amod Mani Dixit, president of Nepal’s National Society for Earthquake Technology, says: “A mega-earthquake is long overdue in western Nepal because there has not been a big one for more than 500 years. We should prepare for the possibility of another big earthquake at any time in the region.”

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Dixit says few lessons have been learned since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that stuck central Nepal in April 2015, destroying half a million homes. “We did some preparation to minimise the risk and damage, but it was not enough.”

Nepal has made it mandatory for all new buildings to be earthquake resistant. “There are hundreds of small earthquakes in Nepal every day,” says Dixit. “Even the quake felt in Kathmandu in 2015 was not a mega one. This is the time to start preparing seriously for the future earthquake.”