In Nepal, Aftershocks Keep People Fearful And Out Of Their Homes
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Over the weekend, I heard from a friend in Nepal. He described people spending their nights outdoors even if their homes survived Saturday's earthquake.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
People do not know what the powerful aftershocks will bring. Where buildings collapsed, people are digging loved ones out of the rubble.
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MONTAGNE: That's the chaotic moment when a man was pulled from the wreckage alive.
INSKEEP: At a moment like this, casualty reports are unreliable. The best available numbers for now say that nearly 4,000 people have died.
MONTAGNE: We don't know much about what happened in rural areas, but Kathleen Heldman was able to call her sister from one of them. She's a real estate broker from California who was hiking near a remote village called Langtang. A recording of their conversation was posted on Facebook.
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KATHLEEN HELDMAN: Langtang is a village right below us. We were there the night before we came up here. I believe that there's about - there was about 300 people in that village. We think that there may be - may be 40 survivors.
MONTAGNE: The village was basically wiped out.
INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy has been surveying damage and has just returned from one of Nepal's most celebrated heritage sites.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: When you reach Bhaktapur, the first thing we encountered was anger, angry residents lining up outside the headquarters of the district police. Four-hundred-thousand people were affected in that district, and the deputy superintendent of police said 4,000 homes had been damaged to the point of being uninhabitable.
INSKEEP: What does it look like when you go into those areas where there's so many thousands of homes uninhabitable?
MCCARTHY: Well, what you see is - because it's strewn across the Kathmandu Valley, so you see pocks of houses against this beautiful landscape that have rumbled to the ground. And a lot of these areas, Steve, are narrow warrens of these ancient homes built with wood that are fragile structures and of course therefore very vulnerable to earthquakes. And the big debate now that's coming up here is why there hasn't been more done to really safeguard this precious heritage.
People tell me it's all well and good to tell us to reinforce our homes to make them earthquake-proof, but that's a very expensive proposition. The aid money that's been pouring into here over the years to talk about earthquakes, one police official said just hasn't gone into that kind of restructuring of these very fragile but very beautiful homes.
INSKEEP: What have the last several days been like for the survivors?
MCCARTHY: Wow. Well, you know, until these aftershocks settle down, people will be terrified here. News of them just consumes their conversations, and that means even in Kathmandu here, where several neighborhoods were really devastated, people by the thousands are putting up tent cities in vast playing grounds around the city. And, of course, the complaints now are for the fact that there aren't enough tents, and the fear is that by the week's end, there won't be water and the food stocks will start to run out. People tell me they're afraid even to go back into their homes to grab a blanket. That's how terrified they are about these aftershocks. We had a couple last night, so we'll see. This earthquake has been rumbling along ever since it struck here shortly before noon on Saturday.
INSKEEP: Now, you began by saying you were going to an area that was considered a heritage site. What historic sites were there, and how did they fare?
MCCARTHY: Well, they didn't fare well. The historic sites there are these ancient temples in the main square there at Bhaktapur. There are old court buildings of the royal family. Interestingly, Steve, the National Museum of Nepal was left standing, virtually untouched. It, among many buildings that had rumbled to the ground around it - beautiful wooden structures with intricate carved doors and windows - it was untouched because it had been recently reinforced to withstand an earthquake.
INSKEEP: Well, this is something you can help us with, Julie McCarthy. We've seen - if we've been on the Internet or looked at television at all the last couple of days - seen images of the utter destruction of some areas. But as you drive across the landscape, is most of Kathmandu still standing?
MCCARTHY: Yes, I'd say it is. I think the vulnerable districts were the ones where there was fragile housing or wherever the shocks might have reared more in one place than in another, but yes. And today, you get the sense that there's a sense of calm. If not calm, there's a sense of normal business starting to come back. Businesses are opening, and there's a lot of traffic back on the roads. Although, Steve, the lines for petrol are very long, as they are for water.
INSKEEP: Is it possible for people to get outside this city and to explore or get aid to areas outside of Kathmandu?
MCCARTHY: One of the big problems here, Steve, is transportation, even to get access to these remote places. Drivers are extremely wary of taking to the roads. In some places, the roads have crumbled, and there's this fear again of these unsettling aftershocks. This has been an issue also for aid agencies who don't want to send their people into harm's way; that according to police authorities here.
So still there's a cloud over that area as to what exactly has happened and how devastated they are. Preliminary reports from aid agencies say these villages that are precariously perched on mountains have been devastated. But few people have seen that as eyewitnesses to be able to get in and get out and tell that story.
INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Kathmandu. Julie, take care of yourself.
MCCARTHY: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.