Chasing EarthquakesJuly 04, 2015
10 minutes after landing in Bagdogra, Anna (my fiance) and I found the airport to be gently swaying, moving side to side, almost peacefully, so it didn't raise panic immediately. We had just arrived 10 minutes earlier and climbed to the second floor of the airport, awaiting our friends and ready to exit. At first I thought the swaying was because of the wind, blowing the structure, or maybe from the jets of a departing plane.
It didn't matter that I had never felt an airport swing before because my mind was not fully focused on the movement. Only after 15 seconds did I begin paying attention and realize I had just landed near the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25th.
Five years earlier, I travelled to Haiti, 4 days after the Earthquake in January 2010 which was lesser in magnitude. That earthquake led to over 200,000 deaths. I feared for those people in Kathmandu and wondered how I could help. Early reports stated that the roads were closed into Kathmandu, no one was let in by the police, and landslides were common.
There would also be aftershocks which I remember from Haiti. However, it was equally hard to stand by and watch the news when I knew there was a chance to help. Anna and I decided to drive into the city and turn back if the roads stopped us or if we weren't useful.
It took 15 hours but we made it into Kathmandu. I had been there before so I knew of the CIWEC clinic and another altitude clinic. I also knew that IMC responded to disasters like Haiti and began contacting possible resources to contribute our effort.
There weren't as many dead bodies or injured people as Haiti. The geography isolated different villages and made the problems more spread out and hard to access. As an early arrival and foreign physician, I sought to assess the situation more than provide direct aid. We went to local hospitals, spoke with the doctors, and made the best impression of how to insert those who would coming into to help.
There was a teaching hospital that would receive bus loads of people, brought in from outside villages, 40 at a time, and try to treat all these orthopedic injuries. Most people were displaced and not wanting to live in doors, so they stayed in camps.
Anna worked to figure out how to build latrines, the best sites to start, and the best way to keep clean water for these people. Of course, most of this was an early effort, priming the pump, and joined forces with bigger efforts through the World Health Organization and many NGOs that entered Nepal. After 5 days, there were strong and organized efforts to help.
It was amazing to see health care transform from a handful of people trying to figure out what is going on to thousands of people working together in an organized fashion. Looking back at Haiti and Nepal, there is much tragedy and sadness, there is also tremendous hope in seeing the best of the world come out and shine.