TWO Limerick men, who were in a remote part of Nepal when the earthquake struck, are safe and well.
Bobby O’Brien, Bruff and Gordon Cagney, were trekking towards Everest base camp when the natural disaster occurred.
Bobby, who has played senior football for his county, writes about his experiences in this week’s Limerick Leader, produced in full below.
The earthquake measured a magnitude of 7.8 and is the worst the country has experienced in over 80 years, with the death toll now close to 5,500 and 11,000 injured.
Meanwhile, Limerick’s Nepalese community gathered for a vigil held in the city yesterday afternoon to remember those who have lost their lives in the tragedy.
Candles were laid out in the outline of the Nepalese flag at Bedford Row, while collections were made to help those affected by the earthquake, which has so far claimed more than 5,200 lives.
Nepalese national Milan Acharya, who now lives in St Joseph Street, said people in Limerick have been “so kind” since the disaster struck.
“People are really helpful and concerned about what has happened there. They want to help in whatever way they can,” he said.
As candles were lit, prayers were said. And collections were carried out in the city until late on Wednesday night.
Bobby O’Brien, Bruff, gives his eyewitness account of the Nepal earthquake
‘We were awoken by the entire building shaking’
MY GIRLFRIEND, Leanne and I had been travelling throughout Sri Lanka and India since the beginning of February.
As planned, on Wednesday April 15, Leanne headed back home to Ireland and I flew to Kathmandu, with the goal of completing the 13 day round trip trek to Everest base camp.
I spent one week in Kathmandu and was fairly underwhelmed by the Nepali capital. However, the people were incredibly warm, friendly and hospitable; almost an expectation after being gently introduced to so many Nepali nationals whilst in India.
On Tuesday, April 21, two friends Gordon Cagney, Limerick and Louise Kirrane, Clare arrived in Kathmandu. The following day we flew from Kathmandu domestic airport to Lukla to begin trekking to Everest base camp, accompanied by our guide, Rames, who has since become a good friend.
The initial days trekking were both challenging and enjoyable as we began dealing with the higher altitude and the decreasing levels of oxygen. We trekked for no more than four/five hours a day ensuring we didn’t ascend too quickly, allowing ourselves time to acclimatise.
It was on the fourth day of the trek when the initial earthquake hit. We had just completed a five hour uphill route in sleet and snow from Namche to a small village called Debouche, where we planned to stay the night.
We put our bags down in the common area in the hostel and within five minutes we felt the building shake as if a strong wind was about to take off the roof. None of us had experienced an earthquake before so we were unaware what was happening. Our guide Rames quickly shouted for us to get out of the building.
Without thinking we found ourselves outside whilst plumes of dust were coming out the windows and we watched part of the stone face of the building falling away in front of us, all the while the ground around us was shaking and we were trying to maintain our balance. The whole episode lasted 30/45 seconds, which the locals claimed was the longest they had ever felt.
We waited five minutes, ran back into the building, grabbed our stuff and got out again as quick as possible. We decided that this place was no longer safe and made the decision to trek 1.5 hours further on our route to another village called Pangbouche.
Before moving we got hit with an after shock while eating lunch in a near by guest house, which caused greater hysteria than the initial earthquake as people were now more aware what was happening and there was huge commotion with every one rushing for the exit.
We trekked safely to Pangbouche but the mood in the tea house here was almost submissive. People were frightened. The entrance door in the common area was not well oiled and every opening was met with a look of caution in peoples faces. The networks were down, and for people accustomed to instant information, we began feeling very isolated.
Initially, we weren’t sure how big a tragedy it had been and whether the news would reach home or not. We could not contact our families. As the hours passed, a Colombian gentleman called Hector, began receiving reception on his mobile. Everyone desperately offered 500 rupees (€5) to send a message to our families. I still don’t know if this was the message that reached my family.
We got a warning, through a local Nepali radio broadcast, that they were expecting another earthquake before midnight. The foreign guests, predominately Irish, Australian and American, intended to sleep in the dining room with the idea of safety in numbers.
However, at around 9.30pm I was the first to give in to exhaustion and optimism and headed back to my small single bed. Everyone else had returned to their bedrooms by 10pm. Still, we were cautious and slept fully clothed with down jackets and trekking trousers on and some friends even slept wearing their hiking boots.
This caution was justified. In less than two hours we were awoken by the entire building traumatically shaking and the sound of the ground moving, comparable to the sound of intense thunder rumbling. It was like everyone in the building simultaneously woke and hit the ground running as we all rushed from the first floor.
Everyone got out safely and the building stood up to the tremors. An awkward joke or two was shared as no one really knew how to react. Within ten minutes we all returned to our rooms and were soon asleep. Looking back now it sounds foolish to return to bed so quickly but I genuinely can’t remember ever feeling so exhausted both physically and mentally from the whole experience.
The following morning, Sunday, the news started filtering through regarding the extent of the tragedy. A guide with another group, Lock, had found out every building in his village had been completely destroyed but luckily his family and friends were all alive. A local cook, who had been working for the expeditions at Everest base camp, had been killed and the village was in mourning for him as well as everyone else.
An image that will stick with me for a long time was all the Nepali guides and porters sitting closely together across the common room from me, staring anxiously at their mobile phones, trying to gain mobile reception while awaiting news from their families. It was heartbreaking and if I was directly in their situation, I don’t think I would have coped as well.
We waited the full day in the guesthouse in Pangbouche as rescue helicopters flew overhead every few minutes and aftershocks emptied the common area on a couple of occasions as we became more familiar with them, yet no more confident. One aftershock caused an outside wall to collapse and also left a visible deformity in the wall which supported where we had just been sitting.
A walk around the village showed walls of buildings knocked and the surrounding countryside’s shape had altered due to rock and mud slides. We exhausted all card games and conversation. A few people were airlifted by helicopter from our guesthouse off the mountain and back to Kathmandu, an option we didn’t even explore as the capital seemed more dangerous than where we were.
As we were still without reception, I gave my fathers contact details to an elderly South African gentleman and asked him to call him when he got a chance and let him know that I was safe.
That evening was the first time that we acknowledged that Everest base camp was no longer achievable or important. We decided we would trek down to Namche the following morning, Monday, a larger town with a lively atmosphere where we had stayed three nights previously on our ascent, with better connections and make a plan from there.
We left Pangbouche at 7am on Monday morning and began the 4.5 hour descent. Along the trek we passed through numerous villages, none of which escaped the destruction of the previous 48 hours. The atmosphere on the trail had dramatically changed from the positive first four days to an overshadowing pessimism. Even in our own group the conversation had silenced.
When we arrived in Namche at 11.30am we were greeted by a different town than we had meet a few days previous. Most of the shops and business were bolted up and a lot of the locals had moved from their homes into make shift tents for safety. The food menu in our hostel had been reduced to a few basic dishes and hot showers are no longer available as the gas that is used to heat the water has now to be kept for cooking.
The cost of charging devices or getting a litre of boiling water for your flask has increased and the local bar has removed all of its spirits from the shelves in the fear of further quakes. Helicopters are landing daily to evacuate people and the only ATM in town has run out of cash. The Nepali people staying in our hostel sit in front of the 24 hour news watching their capital struggle to come to terms with the worst national disaster to hit the country in the last century.
There’s an overwhelming sadness here but we have been encouraged by an Irish man who works for the EU in Belgium to tweet what we are seeing and experiencing, and I plan to do so. [Bobby’s Twitter handle is @BOBrien90]
It sounds like all doom and gloom but that isn’t the case. Louise, Gordon and I are all very safe and are very optimistic. We’ve met some incredible people and have been blown away by the attention we have received from the Nepali people since the first earthquake.
We are currently spending the day in a cafe with people from all over the world who are in the same boat, sharing our stories and experiences. Namche is now extremely safe and we are not in any danger. Our plan now is to hang tough here and wait for things to settle down in Kathmandu before leaving the mountains and hopefully the country.
The Nepali people are an incredibly strong people, everyday we see the locals carrying extraordinary weights on their backs up the mountain trails. Hopefully that strength will stand to them in the coming days and weeks as they come to terms with what has happened.
But this strength is not enough, the people here will need financial help to recover. I would urge anyone who is in a position to donate to do so as soon as possible, to any credible organisation. We are fortunate to be from a great country that doesn’t have to contend with natural disasters, now is an important time to help another great country in this time of disaster.
A big thank you to everyone for the messages of concern over the last few days. See you all soon.