Nepal earthquakes: Survivors' stories

Reporter Yalda Hakim and camera operator walk through the rubble of a village in Nepal
Image caption The scale of the devastation in Nepal's villages is enormous

Nepal's powerful earthquakes have cast a tragic shadow over this impoverished nation. More than 8,000 people have been killed and thousands of others have been left injured.

Eight million people have been affected by this tragedy, that's a third of the population. The country's worst natural disaster has exposed a desperately poor nation and perhaps more importantly, a fragile government, overwhelmed by the scale of this disaster.

I arrived in Nepal's capital Kathmandu with the BBC News team, less than 36 hours after the first 7.8 magnitude quake, on 25 April. One of the first things I noticed was how eerily quiet it was. The narrow alleyways, bustling streets and markets, full of tourists, were now empty. Kathmandu had turned into a ghost town.

Tremors and aftershocks continued, causing further despair and sending panicked residents onto the streets. Tens of thousands of people couldn't return to their homes, either because they'd been reduced to rubble or they were refusing to go back, fearing another earthquake. Instead they opted to sleep out in the open.

So across the capital, tent cities began to spring to life. In the presidential palace. In the golf course. In parks. Anywhere there was open space. Those who couldn't get their hands on tents, were sleeping under tarps despite heavy rainfall.

As NGOs began to pour into the country, bringing with them aid and supplies, they warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis, especially in the remote, outlying areas.

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Media captionYalda Hakim reports for Newsnight on the survivors of the Nepal earthquakes

We decided to travel north-east of Kathmandu, to villages close to the Chinese border that had virtually been cut off from the outside world and where help was struggling to get through.

It became immediately apparent when we left the capital, that the central government was not co-ordinating the aid or the search and rescue operations across this country.

Disease fears

In Malamti village, we came across an Algerian search-and-rescue team trying to recover the bodies of four people from the one family: 51-year-old Phool Kumari Devi Sahai; her daughter, 25-year-old Sushila who was five months pregnant; and Sushila's two children, three-year-old Ankit and Jiya who was two.

They were incinerated after two gas cylinders exploded when the earthquake struck. One of their family members, Ranjit Sahai, told me help didn't come for two or three days.

"The neighbours helped us pour water on the fire to cool it down. But no government organisation came to rescue them. And the fire was burning for more than a week." Village to village, we were hearing the same frustration and anger directed at the authorities.

Four hours drive from the capital, we arrived in Bahrabise. The scale of the disaster suddenly became even more apparent. No building had been left untouched. A thousand people used to live in the area but almost half the population had fled. The rest of the people now lived in a makeshift camp on the side of a mountain.

Image caption Eight million people have been affected by the Nepal quakes

With poor sanitation, a lack of clean water and the monsoon season approaching, the growing fear in Bahrabise, like so many other communities, was an outbreak of disease.

While many of the locals complained that they weren't getting enough food and supplies, we did notice the presence of the military. Nine out of ten soldiers had been mobilised to help distribute aid to the most desperate.

But they weren't able to reach a lot of communities because the roads were completely destroyed. Even in these difficult circumstances, we were told there was a hierarchy in the camp.

Uncertain future

We met 60-year-old Mangali, who has 10 children. Her family have lived in Bahrabise for generations and now they were homeless. She told me only the wealthy and powerful in the camp were getting all the supplies and she had received nothing.

"This is our shelter but it's on someone else's land. If they say 'get out' we have to go tomorrow. We have no place to stay. We have no land and no house. Nothing. Where shall we go? What shall we eat? The only option left is death," she said.

Every night in the village, we felt two or three aftershocks. Very few people slept. There was a constant sense of panic. The people of Bahrabise were convinced there would be another quake.

Then, on 12 May, their greatest fears came true. Just two weeks after the first major earthquake, there was a 7.3 magnitude quake. Bahrabise was close to the epicentre.

We decided to return to the country to find out what had happened to the people we had met. Had they survived? Would they remain in the villages that they had lived in for generations?

Whatever buildings remained standing had now also been destroyed. Hundreds more lives were lost.

In Bahrabise, we searched for hours for Mangali. She had left the camp and had moved closer to where her house once stood. The sense of helplessness in these villages was palpable. In Malamti we managed to track down Ranjit whose family had been buried under the rubble.

Image caption People lie on the floor in an overcrowded hospital in Kathmandu

He told me the Algerian rescue team were never able to recover the bodies. "They were burnt alive, the rescue workers discovered bones only." Ranjit and his brother were also caught up in the aftermath of the second quake. "People are really scared now, they aren't going to go home after this second one."

In the aftermath of two massive earthquakes in the space of three weeks, Nepal is a country coming to terms with loss and devastation.

There are concerns now that the arrival of the monsoon season in a few weeks time could further complicate the already slow relief effort. There are also growing fears of flooding, landslides and the spread of disease. The future for millions of people remains uncertain.

But, despite the pessimistic forecast, what struck me most about the Nepali people was their resilience. Every community and village we travelled to, we found people working together, side by side, promising to rebuild their country.

Nepal: Survivors' Stories with Yalda Hakim is on Our World on the BBC News Channel at 0430 and 2130 BST on Saturday 23 May and 0330 and 2130 BST on Sunday 24 May and on BBC World News at 2330 GMT on Friday 22 May and 1130 and 2230 GMT on Saturday 23 May and later on BBC iPlayer.

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