Mass cremations for Nepal quake victims

Entire families laid out on collective funeral pyres on both banks of the Bheri River

All photos: GOPEN RAI

It is a brilliantly bright autumn day by the banks of the Bheri River. Along the cold green waters, the whole village of Chiuri is gathered for a mass cremation of those who died in the earthquake just before midnight on 3 November.

Two tractors follow the mourners filled with logs, and the bodies of 13 who were killed are laid out. One of them is Deputy Mayor of Malaga Municipality Sarita Singh, and there are five smaller shrouds covering the bodies of children below 14.

Sabitri B K, 21, is inconsolable. “Oh god,” she says looking up at the sky, “you should have taken me instead, why did you take my son?”

Read Also: Deadly earthquake hits W Nepal, Nepali Times 

2023 western Nepal earthquake NT
2023 western Nepal earthquake NT
2023 western Nepal earthquake NT

Sabitri’s husband is haunched near the body of their five year old son who was crushed in his sleep by falling beams when their house collapsed. Sabitri and her husband were also buried under the rubble, but were rescued alive.

Hire Kami, 55, along with his wife and two sons aged 12 and 14 were also killed in the earthquake. His eight-year-old daughter Premkali is the only surviving member of the family, so the collective funeral rituals are being performed by their neighbour Lal Bahadur Kami. “There is no one else, so I am doing it,” Lal Bahadur says simply.

Lal Bahadur Kami recalls the moment at 11:49 when the ground started to shake, the screams of people were drowned by a deep underground growl and the road of houses coming down.

Family members clawed through the bricks and dirt with their bare hands trying to save their relatives. As the dust settled, and in the light of mobile phone torchlights, he noticed that not a single house on his street was standing.

Read also: Demographics of disaster in Nepal quake, Nepali Times

2023 western Nepal earthquake NT
2023 western Nepal earthquake NT
2023 western Nepal earthquake NT

Rescuers reached people whose muffled cries could be heard from below the debris, but others could not be saved because there was not enough digging equipment. Most of the mud and stone houses collapsed. One old house collapsed, but its new reinforced concrete annex was intact.

On the other side of the Bheri River, villagers from Chapaghat had gathered to perform the final rites of three siblings who were killed, buried under their house on Friday, two daughters 16 and 26, and an 18 month old son.

Their father was not at home and their mother was injured. Their relative Bindu Rokaya and her nine-year-old daughter were also killed.

“Oh god, why did you save me and kill them?" their grandmother Dipa Pariyar said, weeping as villagers prepared the collective pyre.

Read also: Lessons still not learnt, Sonia Awale

2023 western Nepal earthquake NT
2023 western Nepal earthquake NT

 All of the 80 houses in Chiuri village, some 30 km from the district headquarters Khalanga, were severely damaged. On Saturday, the villagers busied themselves trying to salvage clothes, beddings and kitchenware from the rubble. Even two days after the disaster, the many here have not received any relief.

Says Dilbahadur BK, a local, "We cannot build our houses immediately. In the meantime if we could get tents and beddings, it would help us in the cold."

At least 157 people were killed in Rukum West and Jajarkot districts of Nepal's remote mountains, 102 of them were women, and 32 were children.Many in the affected villages are still in shock and have not yet come to terms with the nightmare.

Read also: Epicentre of two disasters in West Nepal, Sonia Awale