Revd Janet Lees, the Chaplain at Silcoates School, has been in touch with the synod office today with the following information:
Her brother is an engineer and currently living and working in Nepal and has given the attached first-hand account of when the earthquake happened. I have attached a few photographs which also accompanied his account.
Janet used the information in school this week and is happy for churches to use it, if it can be an aid to services or prayer meetings etc.
Tunnelling in an earthquake
I came here in July 2014 for a 10 week contract. Now 10 months later I am still here. The job is simple enough a drill and blast tunnel 26km through the Himalayas to bring water to Kathmandu. But at 12:00 on 25th April all this changed when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit the area.
I was in Sundarijal when the earthquake hit. It is the last work site of the tunnel just north of Kathmandu. The camp accommodation is prefab housing so the house just wobbled a little and stayed in one piece. My biggest danger was the cabinet at the foot of the bed falling on me.
There seemed little effect in the camp so I then started checking on my friends and colleagues. Via mobile and internet I was able to touch base with most people and get a message back to my family, whilst at the same time reading the on line reports from Kathmandu. My biggest worry was that I was unable to contact my friend Steve who I had dropped off in Thamel in the centre of Kathmandu earlier that morning. This became a major concern after his wife contacted me from Wales via email asking me for news. Meanwhile several aftershocks rumbled through the area.
Finally the internet service stopped working so I walked up to the offices. Whilst talking to the tunnel boss Emilio, a member of the public came up. He was an old man and not very tall, but was completely distressed. Through some interpretation by our cook we understood his house was gone and he was concerned for his family and children and was asking if we had any plastic sheets we could provide. After a quick thought we realised we had some old ventilation bags up at the store and set about handing these out to the local people who started then coming in droves. A tent city was soon established outside the tunnel site.
After a quick supper I went to bed, with regular disturbances from more tremors.
I woke early. I checked the phones and internet but nothing was working. The site camp was empty so I went and got some coffee for a quick breakfast. Not sure what I could do without communications I decided I would do my job and went to inspect the tunnel.
The portal area was deserted. I left my tag on the board and started the long walk of 4km to the tunnel face. It is not frequently accessed by pedestrians but rather by locomotive on the rails and the going was slow and difficult in places. I notice a couple of small rock falls, but nothing concerning instability and some cracking in some of the shotcrete, completing my inspection on the way out. As I exited the tunnel Emilio was there with a few workers, so I gave some instructions for the few areas of instability I had seen to be made safe and went back to my room. I was pleased to see my driver had arrived as I had been unable to contact him. He reported that all his family were safe and well.
I took a quick shower and decided to go to seek out my friend Stephen. The buildings along the road going into Kathmandu were in a terrible condition with many losing a main wall opening their contents and personal lives to the world. The house most badly affected were those of old clay brick, some of which were now just a pile of rubble. The streets were full of people in make shift tents or sitting around in large groups afraid to go back in their house in case another tremor hit.
Kathmandu was not as bad as I expected with only occasional building affected. But some of these were in ruins and even major reinforced concrete structure showed major cracking, and were obviously beyond repair.
We arrived at Steve’s Hotel to find everyone had slept the night sleeping outside from fear of broken masonry. Major cracks ran up the front of the building. I asked at the makeshift desk and was told to walk around the grounds to see if I could find him. I did this but had no luck.
Then I had a phone call from our Office Manager who said that Steve had phoned and was at the British Embassy – so we headed over. I have never seen anybody so pleased to see me. “I knew you’d rescue me,” he said, “The Embassy have been brilliant, I have been attended to by the Gurkas all night.”
It seemed that QATAR Airways was providing extra planes but he needed to pick up his passport and luggage from the hotel. So we took him back and then returned to drop him off once more at the Embassy.
Meanwhile my team of young engineers and phoned from Ambathan at the top of the project. They were walking back to our camp at Melamchi. So we set off to pick them up.
As we travelled over the mountain road we had taken so many times before it was heartbreaking to see the familiar houses that I had previously photographed in ruins collapsed by the side of the road. About halfway we came to LangleyValley. The whole village was flattened and we were told there was a major landslide ahead and that we would not be able to get through to Melamchi. So we turned around and tried the back road via Sindhu.
Not only was every village flattened with many people sitting in groups under covers along the side of the road, but much of the route had minor landslides and rockfalls, with big cracks along some sections of the road.
We finally descended to Bahunepati and continued on to Melamchi. Again all these so familiar house were now destroyed. We soon came up behind a slow line of traffic where our contractor was using a large Volvo loader and JCB to clear the road ahead. After a while the waved us pas and we continued to Melamchi Pul Bazaar.
We did not stop at our camp as our colleagues had phoned a few times to ask where we were. We were shocked to find that the far end of Melamchi was blocked with fallen rock and flattened houses so had to return to tack the back road around.
Just the other side we met a family carrying a small baby and with a young child in tow. We stopped to offer them a lift saying we were going just as far as Taramarang. They accepted gratefully and we set off. The man was helpful at one point assisting me to remove some branches from the road so that Bikas my driver could get the Land Cruiser through.
When we finally found our colleagues who had walked some 10km across landslides and through flattened villages, I saw genuine relief in their faces. We said goodbye to the young family and wished them luck before cramming five exhausted engineers into the Land Cruiser for a trip back to camp.
On the way they told their stories of hiding in the tunnel as large rocks fell from the steep cliffs above. A young student from a group visiting the site had been killed by one of these boulders and another lady had broken her leg.
Back in camp three of the party wished to travel home to their families in Kathmandu. All of them said their families were ok but living in tents for fear of going back in their houses. Mr Bikas as always agreed to drive back to Kathmandu to take the party. The others wished to stay as they were fearful that further tremors may occur. They said that 9 magnitude tremor had been predicted today at 4pm. It didn’t happen.
I then went to catch up with the contractor to determine how I could assist and what were their plans.