Living And Working In An Active Earthquake Zone

Image of badly damaged buildings in Phataksila, Nepal.

While regular tremors still take place in Nepal, it can be nerve-racking being too close to buildings that have been damaged by the earthquakes. (Emily Whitfield-Wicks/ShelterBox)

 

ShelterBox response team member Becky Maynard was one of the first response volunteers to arrive in Nepal after the country was hit by a staggering 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Since then, there have been numerous aftershocks with tremors measuring more than 4 in magnitude on an almost daily basis, with some being significantly larger such as the 7.3 magnitude quake that happened on Tuesday, 12 May.
Becky tells us about her experience of living and working in an active earthquake zone: ‘Our team have been operating in many different locations throughout the country, spending time between planning and logistics in Kathmandu and delivery of aid in the most badly damaged areas. Both locations offer differing challenges for the teams.
‘The majority of the destruction has been in the rural areas but being in those remote regions can feel a lot safer than being in the city. We have been sleeping in tents or in vehicles when we are in rural areas and I have often slept through smaller tremors of around 4 magnitude. Many of the communities we are living with and supporting are living in temporary shelter. Despite the fact that these shelters are very unlikely to be damaged by aftershocks they are understandably sensitive to the quakes. More often than not I have been woken up by villagers running out and screaming, rather than by the tremor itself.

‘In the hotel, however, the feeling is different. My room is up two flights of stairs. The top of a building, which is where I am, is a lot safer than the bottom as if the building collapsed, I would be under the smallest amount of rubble. I have a good-sized window and an easy exit route, albeit via two fairly large jumps, but being in a building is a lot more nerve-racking than sleeping outside.

Becky Maynard (right) helps to distribute shelter kits to people in the remote area of Phataksila, Nepal.

Becky Maynard (right) helps to distribute shelter kits to people in the remote area of Phataksila, Nepal.

‘It’s not just about the aftershocks that actually happen. At regular times throughout the day I think I feel an aftershock. This happens a lot in the field when I have been trekking up and down hills and getting less sleep as my muscles might be slightly strained and a bit wobbly, or my head lighter. But in the field we are out in the open. The risk is very low and I don’t feel any lurch of fear.
‘I feel a lot more false shocks in my room in Kathmandu, which is probably less about the physical and more about the psychological. Due to the inherent danger, your senses are heightened, noises such as furniture being moved or storms rolling overhead become something else in your mind. Damaged houses nearby are being demolished and the noise of smashing tiles or falling bricks sends brief waves of nervousness through me.
Prepared at all times
‘The ShelterBox team is prepared at all times. My bag is packed with the basic equipment to sustain me for at least 24 hours and contains extra clothing, my medical kit, water purification, some basic food rations and, critically, my communications equipment. My passport and some emergency money stay on my person at all times. Even if I am just leaving the room to go to reception or to our office within the building I will take my bag with me. I will look where the nearest exit is when I step into a room, and if possible, sit near it. We have pre-agreed evacuation rendezvous points where we can do a quick headcount and make sure that the team is all safe after a tremor.
‘The confusing part is identifying when a real aftershock is taking place versus an imaginary one. Although I am sure there are very clever electronic solutions to let you know when there is an aftershock I have stuck to the basics. On the desk in my room I have two glasses and I have positioned them adjacent to each other and when the building starts shaking they clink together giving me a sound warning. I also have a half bottle of water on the floor of the room. If the ground is shaking, the water will ripple, so with a quick glance I can see if it is in my head or if it is time to evacuate. While I was writing this piece my early warning system kicked into action. The tremor was only 4.4 in magnitude, but it is reassuring to know that the process works.
Becky is now back in the UK after spending almost a month in Nepal. She said: ‘I’m now back in my own house, which is safe and without aftershocks. However, the people I have worked with and come to care so much for don’t have a safe home to return to. They are having to start rebuilding their lives from the ground up and no doubt the fear they feel will continue for a very long time to come.’

So far, our teams have been able to provide shelter for more than 15,000 people in Nepal. They have also provided tents to be used as field hospitals and therapy centres, as well as school equipment for children who live in orphanages in the badly affected Kathmandu Valley.

 

 

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