Grief-stricken survivors are cold and hungry

Nepal’s latest earthquake leaves hundreds of shocked families waiting desperately for relief

All photos: GOPEN RAI

Shock turned to grief, and now it is accompanied by hunger and cold. Complicated logistics and bureaucracy has meant that relief material has not yet reached the village of Chiuri in Jajarkot that was devastated by the midnight earthquake of 3 November.  

Thirteen of those killed in just this one village were cremated in a collective funeral by the banks of Bheri down the mountain on Sunday. It was nightfall, and the mourners had still not returned. 

The survivors were spreading out freshly harvested straw under a plastic sheet to make a bed for their second night out in the open. It gets chilly after sunset here, and the families have rolled up some tattered blankets they have retrieved from the ruins of their homes.

Even in Chiuri, the worst affected part was the predominantly-Dalit Imle neighbourhood where four members of the Hire Kami family were killed in their sleep when their house collapsed. Only eight-year-old Premkali was pulled out alive from the rubble. She lost her parents and two siblings.

Jajarkot Nepal earthquake
Eight-year-old Premkali lost both of her parents and her two older brothers in the earthquake.

The underserved Dalit community in these mountains of northwestern Nepal usually have the flimsiest houses made of stone and mud, and nine of them in Imle immediately collapsed when the first jolts of the shallow 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit.

Premkali herself was hurt in her head finger and back by a falling beam, and had just been brought back from hospital. She was staring into the distance outside her collapsed home, wincing in pain. 

The eight-year-old seemed to be in complete shock, and would even be startled by neighbours consoling her. “Poor thing, you have no one now, who will look after you,” one neighbor Debmaya BK said to Premkali. Tears streamed down both her cheeks, the girl could not say anything.

One of Premkali’s elder brothers went to India a few years ago, and there is hope that he will return to take care of her. She does not even remember her brother’s face since he left when she was very young. 

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Jajarkot Nepal earthquake
Chiuri Village in Jajarkot.

On Friday night, Hire Kami, 55, his wife and their 12 and 14-year-old sons had gone to sleep on the ground floor of their house. Premkali and her friend Rupa were on the upper level. Their floor fell on the floor below where the four were sleeping. 

Rupa, 14, is also injured, and says she does not remember much. “In the morning I just saw the four of Premkali’s family laid out in front of the collapsed house, they all looked like they were sleeping,” she said. Premkali is in Grade 3, Rupa is in Grade 9 and they go to the same school.

Since there was no one except the girl left in the family, the combined cremation for Hire Kami, his wife and two sons was performed by a neighbor, Lal Bahadur Kami. He told us: “They have no one else.”  

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A neighbour Bimala BK who survived had rushed to Hire Kami’s house and heard them shouting for help from under the rubble for about an hour, but soon the voices died out. “We did not have digging tools, and could not remove the stones in time in the darkness to save them,” Bimala said. 

It is early winter here in the mountains, and the nights are getting cold. Nearly all the 80 houses in Chiuri have been damaged or destroyed, many pots and pans are buried and families cannot even cook a hot meal in the open. There is a bottleneck in supplies reaching these remote villages because the government has decided to coordinate all relief through the Nepal Army base in Surkhet, and there are only a limited number of helicopters.

Jajrkot Nepal earthquake
Survivours huddle together for warmth outside of their partially damanged house.

Bhagwati BK has prepared the straw beds for mourners returning from the funeral, and says: “If the earthquake did not kill us, the cold will probably kills us. We urgently need shelter, food and warm clothes.”

Sabitri B K, 21, from Chapaghat village was inconsolable on the banks of the Bheri on Sunday afternoon as the logs were laid out on the funeral pyres for her five-year-old son who was crushed when their home collapsed. Sabitri and her husband were rescued.

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“Oh god, why didn’t you take instead?” she implored, looking up at the sky. 

Jajarkot Nepal earthquake

Dipa Pariyar, 60, was also at the river side waiting for the joint funeral for her two granddaughters, 16 and 26, and a 18-month-old grandson. Her son was not at home and her daughter-in-law was injured. A relative and her 9-year-old daughter were also killed.

Pariyar wept, as she said: “Why did you have to save me, god, and kill them?"