April 28, 2015


[Across the countryside outside Katmandu, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people are making similar desperate journeys, abandoning the jobs that had drawn them from home in better times and traveling through difficult terrain to get back to isolated villages like Ramche that have been all but cut off from the world.]
Destroyed houses in Paslang, a village in the Gorkha district in
Nepal.Credit Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters
RAMCHE, Nepal — Madhu Badu had been on the road for the better part of three days, trying to get back to his native village, back to his wife and children, near the epicenter of Nepal’s devastating earthquake. His journey had begun on a bus, but the roads had become impassable and now he was on foot.
As he climbed a dirt path strewn with boulders and the muddy debris of landslides, hints of the devastation that awaited him in Ramche greeted him like ominous signposts: an elderly woman, groaning in pain, draped on the back of a man who was carrying her down the mountain; a hamlet where residents were burying the dead; piles of stone rubble where farmhouses once stood.
Desperate residents appeared from the forests, pleading for help from Mr. Badu and a journalist. “We lost everything!” cried one, Baldev Bhatta, as he waved a sickle in the air, his eyes bloodshot. “You are the first outsiders to come here. We have no grain. We have no money. We cannot rebuild on our own. You need to send this news to the world.”
At each stop on the way up the mountain, farmers offered to show Mr. Badu the ruins of their houses. But he pressed forward, anxious to find out what had happened to his neighbors and relatives.
Across the countryside outside Katmandu, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people are making similar desperate journeys, abandoning the jobs that had drawn them from home in better times and traveling through difficult terrain to get back to isolated villages like Ramche that have been all but cut off from the world.
Three days after Nepal’s worst earthquake in 80 years, the official death toll climbed past 5,000 and the prime minister, Sushil Koirala, said it could reach 10,000. But the extent of the destruction and loss of life in the countryside remained largely unknown.
Here in the Gorkha district, the epicenter of the magnitude 7.8 quake, roads that are repaired or cleared during the day are often blocked before the next morning by landslides, making it difficult to reach communities where hundreds are feared dead. In a sign of progress, though, convoys of aid workers, some bearing the banners of Nepalese companies, could be seen driving through the region on Tuesday. Helicopters have also been ferrying the wounded out of the area.
When the quake struck, Mr. Badu, 51, was in Solukhumbu, about 100 miles northeast of here, at a trekking station at the base of Mount Everest where he works in construction. He tried calling his wife for four hours before he finally got through. She told him that she and their children were safe, but that the village had been badly damaged.
He spent the next two days on buses before beginning his trek at dawn on Tuesday on foot. He carried two plastic tarpaulins, a down jacket and a bag filled with apples and grapes. It was part care package, part aid delivery.
Before the earthquake, he said, the villages in this impoverished region were doing better. They had electricity and cellphone coverage, and the dirt roads were more or less acceptable. But now there was no power, and communications were spotty.
In almost every hamlet on the way up to Ramche, residents reported deaths from the quake. None, however, appeared to have suffered mass casualties.
Finally, as Mr. Badu approached Ramche, a vista of destruction came into focus. The village where he had grown up had been leveled.
On a bluff with sweeping views of the verdant valleys below, all that was left of the high school was a massive jumble of timber beams, slate roof tiles and broken stone walls. Almost every house had collapsed, and Mr. Badu’s neighbors were living under makeshift tents. The wounded lay in a stable with the water buffaloes.
Mr. Badu’s home was one of the few left standing. “I imagined that my house was completely destroyed,” he said. “I have food to eat. The others have nothing.”
Visibly shaken, he stopped in what used to be the courtyard of the school, considering what might have happened if the earthquake had not struck on a Saturday and the 500 students here had been in class. Protruding from the rubble was a partly rolled-up map, the kind used in geography classes, titled “America – political.”
The only people in the building when the quake struck were 18 teachers in a training session. One of them, Netra Prasad Devkota, stood in the courtyard holding a muddied copy of the materials they had been studying when the school “started to crack into pieces,” as he put it.
“I shouted, ‘Earthquake!’” he recalled. “We all ran.”
Mr. Devkota managed to crawl out of the school amid a huge cloud of dust. But eight of the teachers were buried in the rubble. Four were killed, and four were later pulled alive from the debris, one in critical condition.
A resident called a friend who is a helicopter pilot in the Nepalese armed forces. The pilot reached the village on Sunday and evacuated the wounded teachers. “The pilot came out of friendship,” said Bumi Nanda Devkota, another native of Ramche who had also rushed home. “There has been no help from the government since.”
Many residents survived the quake because they were working in the fields where they grow wheat and rice. Others were standing outside their houses. Jhyali Maya Devkota, 63, said she was inside, but lunged toward the door of her house when the tremors began.
“We were told to stand in the door frame,” she said. “Those were the instructions they always gave on television. That is how I survived.”
Two women lay in a thatched-roof stable next to water buffaloes. One had a bandage around her head. The other moaned miserably, her leg swollen and her foot wrapped in gauze. Residents said no doctors had come to see them.
“We tried to get them on a helicopter, but they told us there was no room,” said Tejnath Puddasin, the son of one of the women. “The voice of poor people like us is not heard.”
Mr. Badu’s house, built on a slab of stone, appeared to suffer only minor cracks in the facade. He said he felt very fortunate, especially because the family’s food supplies were safe.
The village had clean water, but grain from the last harvest had largely been buried in the ruins of the houses that collapsed. Residents still had vegetables and livestock, but were worried that they would not last long.
Mr. Badu’s wife, Bishnu, returned home from the fields in the late morning to find her husband waiting for her. “This is big happiness for me,” she said.
Despite the reunion, though, she said she remained very nervous. “The school collapsed, four teachers died and I fear there will be more earthquakes,” she said. “I don’t feel lucky.”