After the recent shaking that central New Zealand has experienced, Eleanor Middleton experienced an earthquake in Kathmandu. Eleanor is a volunteer working with the Society for Humanism in Nepal SOCH Nepal and a volunteer secondary teacher at the Societies school in Kathmandu. Shortly after the earthquake she wrote:

“About an hour ago I was woken by an earthquake: Magnitude 4.9, Depth 33km, Location 3km NNW of Chongdui, China, which is 82km NE of Kathmandu. It wasn’t particularly big, but I have to admit I’ve been left feeling slightly shaken and wide awake. I’m no stranger to earthquakes growing up in New Zealand, having “Stop! Drop! Hold!” routines drilled into my brain since an early age. I didn’t think that much of the earthquake straight away, as it didn’t feel that big to me. It woke me, and I thought I’d go to the bathroom. After leaving my room I met with the family members I’m living with. They are a big family and they explained to me that they were going out onto the street in case there was a second earthquake and I should join them. I hadn’t really thought about a possibility of a second earthquake and had planned to go back to sleep. I did go downstairs. It turned out that the whole neighbourhood had come out of their houses and met in the street in case there was a second earthquake and I should join them. Apparently Nepali people consider outside to be safer during an earthquake. I couldn’t dispute the fact that it would be dangerous to stay inside. The poorly constructed houses are bound to collapse in a decent shake. This might be true in the village; however, I don’t really feel that the streets of Kathmandu are a safer option. I began searching for a safe place to find shelter. The street was no good because of the mess of overhead wires. Not to mention the debris and shattered glass that would start falling from surrounding buildings. In some parts of Kathmandu the streets are extremely narrow and lined by high brick walls, and these certainly would not be safe places to run to during an earthquake. Even in the wide street where I’m staying I didn’t think the street was a safe option. Honestly I still have not worked out where exactly is safe. I’ve only managed to frighten myself by realising that every place I can think of is not safe. The house will collapse potentially squashing you, unless you can get under a sturdy table. However, as all cooking is done on gas, the gas cylinder might explode and start a fire in the rubble before you can be rescued. So, in this case it’s better to go outside, but outside doesn’t seem any more inviting as I explained above. I’m going to think about this one over the next few days. So we waited outside for some time. I hovered near the external door during my internal conflict over if staying inside or outside was safer in Kathmandu. There was lots of laughter and people seemed to be enjoying this midnight street gathering. After about half an hour, a truck of armed police men showed up. I was completely baffled by this, and so asked my friend if this was the normal response to a moderate quake. He laughed and told me no, one of the policeman’s wife lives in a nearby house. However, I was later told that they had actually turned up because a patient in a hospital two doors from our house had become so alarmed by the earthquake that he had thrown himself out of a window. As we waited on the street rumbling noises would cause everyone to suddenly run out into the centre of the street away from the buildings. I remained weary of the overhead power lines. New Zealand might get bigger earthquakes than this, but I’d much rather be in New Zealand for a decent shake than in Kathmandu. Kathmandu is an earthquake death trap. New Zealand has building regulations. We don’t commonly store gas cylinders in our houses, and keep overhead wiring to a minimum. If Kathmandu experienced a quake similar to that of the February 2011 Christchurch quake, I really can’t imagine what would happen. 80% of the city would probably be destroyed and thousands of people would be killed.”