Kathmandu, (Reuters) - Survivors and relatives of victims are returning to commemorate mark the first anniversary of Nepal’s most devastating earthquake, in which a huge rockfall obliterated the village of Langtang, 60 km (35 miles) north of Kathmandu.
Here are some of their stories of the disaster, in which 285 people died or are still missing, as told to Reuters reporter Ross Adkin.
Athena Zelandonii, a 26-year-old photographer from Australia, was in Kyanjin Gompa near Langtang village when the earthquake struck just before noon on April 25. She ran outside to see an avalanche; a “wall of snow cutting through the fog”. She decided to walk down to Langtang with companions she’d met along the way, and reached the village by afternoon. “You never think that the place you’re going to will be even more damaged than the one you’re already in,” she told Reuters in Kathmandu before survivors and victims’ relatives set out for the memorial ceremony in Langtang. About 130-140 people spent the first night sitting around a school building in those “family-type groups you form when you are trekking”. It was only after her evacuation by helicopter on April 29 that she received a call from her insurance company and was put through to her mother, who until then had not known her fate. “There was no question of not coming back,” she said.
Locals have already marked the anniversary of the earthquake “in our own way, following the Tibetan calendar”, said 30-year-old Kartok Lama. “We had two gompas (Buddhist temples) in the village before the earthquake, but now both are gone. If we have to do puja now, or have some gathering, we do it in a hut. We’re trying to rebuild the gompas,” she told Reuters. Almost everyone from the village is back; people are rebuilding their homes and hotels, and there is work going on in the fields. One hotel has just been finished, and another is about to be finished. “We want the tourists to come back. I had a tea shop but it was damaged in the earthquake and I haven’t been able to rebuild it yet because I don’t have the money,” she said.
American Scott Meola has also joined the pilgrimage to Langtang. The Seattle native has reconciled himself to the fate of his 19-year-old daughter Bailey, still missing, while fellow traveller Sydney Schumacher, also 19, is known to have died. The last sign of life from the young friends was a picture drawn by Sydney in the visitor’s book of the popular bakery in Langtang village, together with a message of thanks that said they would soon be eating at the top of the hill. While nearly all the buildings in the village were obliterated, the bakery was only partly damaged. It has since reopened. “I wish they had survived. They would have been great up there, helping, organising,” said Meola, a tall, thickset man who spoke slowly and deliberately of his loss: “First and foremost, I want to walk in their steps and see what they saw. There will be intense emotional and physical pain, and I’m looking forward to that.” He also said he wants to support the people of Langtang in their rebuilding effort.
Tsering Jangbu Changnyempa, 20, was in Kathmandu at the time of the earthquake preparing for his school exams. He did not find out about the disaster in Langtang until three or four days later, when he saw a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo on the Facebook page of a guide. “It was all gone,” he told Reuters at a monastery in Kathmandu where many villagers took shelter after the quake. At the time of the earthquake and avalanche his father and three brothers were in Kyanjin Gompa, where they run a guesthouse. His mother was in Langtang village, where their home and other hotel were, working in the fields. Her body has not yet been found; his father and brothers survived. “Everything of ours in the village is gone - house, fields, property,” he said. Villagers, especially the elderly, were impatient to return and were the first to go back. While in Kathmandu, Tsering took a photography course and is keen to use the medium as a way to share the story of his village one day. In three weeks, is going back to Langtang for the first time in over a year, before returning to study tourism at university in Kathmandu. “Of course I want to use it to help the village recover,” he said. “But if I can’t work there, then I’ll go abroad.”
Still missing is Dawn Habash, a 57-year-old mother and yoga instructor from Augusta, Maine who was trekking in Nepal for the fourth time. Son Khaled and daughter Yasmine worked shifts to try and find out about their mother, checking the Facebook pages of those who may have been nearby and calling embassies around the world for help. “It was like putting together a very complicated jigsaw puzzle, but one that didn’t end as we had hoped,” said Khaled, who was making the trek with Yasmine and Dawn’s brother, Randy, to Langtang. The family is still hoping that Dawn’s body will be found and they can get closure. “Because we need that closure,” said Khaleed. “Sometimes I still get these lightning-bolt thoughts – what if? And that’s not healthy.”