“We Heard a Huge Rumbling Sound” — Canadian Volunteers Offer Eye-Witness Account

David and Pauline Streeter of Uxbridge, Ont., left Canada for Nepal thinking they were heading for a challenging but rewarding week of volunteer service at the Aanandit Charity Centre, a Christian organization that cares for under-privliged children in Nepal. The Streeters were going to lend a hand in the orphanage and help improve the organizations website. 

They landed one day before the earthquake and lived through one of the worst disasters to hit that small nation. They were evacuated out of Nepal last week and have arrived home safely. They share their experience with Faith Today blog readers — what it was like to be there, what the quake felt like, getting back home and how their concerns for the country they love. 

What was it like to be there?

It was extraordinary, scary. Something we have never experienced before, almost beyond comprehension. It is taking a while to assimilate it all in our minds.

“We felt the ground move beneath our feet, to the extent that we could not stand up straight, and were knocked to the ground. We felt afraid.”

What did you experience?

To begin with we saw bewilderment, even in the Nepalese who do have the occasional tremor, since they live in an earthquake zone. But they have the tremor, come outside of their buildings, wait for it to be over, and then go back in and carry on. This time there was no end to it.

Then we saw fear and panic. Later we drove around Kathmandu and saw the damage to the houses and to the roads.

We heard a huge rumbling sound especially with the initial quake and then with other subsequent ones, though not so loud. Some of the smaller quakes were silent. We were sleeping outside at night and so were the rest of Kathmandu. Every time there was a tremor, people would scream, and then the dogs would start barking. Even small tremors set the dogs off, so they were our sentinels.

David and Pauline Streeter sleeping outside after the earthquake hit Nepal.
David and Pauline Streeter sleeping outside after the earthquake hit Nepal.

We were sleeping in the garden of our friends, Milan and Shusma Adhikari, who very kindly took us in, when our Guest House was deemed unsafe due to the many cracks in the walls. Their house survived very well, and sustained very little damage. The contents were flung about but the structure remained sound.

 

It was on the flight path to the airport and very close, so when the airport reopened and aid was beginning to arrive, the huge army planes flew right over us. It was strange lying there in the garden and seeing this huge underbelly of an Indian army plane flying over us. Of course the earth seemed to shake from the planes let alone the earthquakes!

What did we feel when the earthquake struck? We felt the ground move beneath our feet, to the extent that we could not stand up straight, and were knocked to the ground. We felt afraid.

It was a war of nerves, each new quake, we wondered if it was going to be bigger than the last. And people were spreading all kinds of rumours about another bigger one, 10 on the Richter scale, was coming. After a while, we began to relax a little thinking it was calming down, but then along would come a bigger one and set us all off again.

I have to admit that when we began to receive e-mails before the Internet went down and we lost power, I was greatly comforted by the amount of prayer that was going up on our behalf. Tuesday morning I read right through the Psalms and came across Psalm 46:- “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” To me the sea was this sea of molten lava beneath our feet.

Did you realize what was happening? 

It was a gradual realization – a dawning, though we were numb to start with. I remember hearing about the loss of life and was quite perturbed that I didn’t feel anything. All I could think was that I wanted to get out! We wondered about the uncertainty of the resources, gasoline, power, food and water. We had enough to eat, especially rice, and some stores were still selling bottled water, though many were running out. Milan’s house had a well to supply water, but even that was running low. The neighbouring house was empty, since the occupants had gone away to celebrate the Hindu festival that was occurring at this time. So Milan had managed somehow to procure the water from the tank above their house, so we had extra water. They were very careful to make sure we had boiled water and were very solicitous towards us and our health. We were very blessed to be with them at this time. We don’t know how to thank them enough.

What did we observe after the earthquake happened?

The earthquake happened when we were in church, though in fact we were in the neighbouring church hall. During the message we were asked if we would come to the hall where the children were, to hand out exercise books to them.

The exercise books were provided by money that had been given to Milan during a recent visit to Canada, so they felt it would be nice if we handed them out. We had just finished this when the quake happened. I was sitting next to the wall, and remained rooted there until I felt bits falling on me and Shusma said that there was a crack in the wall right behind me so we had better get out of the building. So we all poured out of the hall to meet up with the people all pouring out of the church. There were cracks in the church wall as well, though neither building collapsed – Praise the Lord.

As we drove around Kathmandu we saw the devastation, houses completely turned to rubble and many temples. Also the tower in Kathmandu had collapsed and caught many people underneath.

How did you get out?

Our family worked very hard to get us out of Nepal, and registered us to be on a C17 Canadian military aircraft and airlifted out to New Delhi. This took place on the Wednesday.

Milan was driving us around trying to find the Canadian Consulate which we finally came across – a one room office with a lady sitting on a picnic bench outside. She was it! She directed us to the American Club, which was quite luxurious in comparison and like Fort Knox to get into. Here the Canadians were gathering to be evacuated and looked after. Most of them were trekkers.

But as we drove around that Wednesday morning, we could see that many of the stores were now opening, even a flower shop! Here they were selling the garlands that are used in the Hindu Festivals which were still carrying on. I even saw a meat shop open. The cracks in the roads were beginning to be filled in with gravel and work was being done on removing the rubble. As we crossed the river, I saw many plumes of smoke further on down, so the cremations had started to take place.

Milan and Shusma had moved into relief work with their charity, and were planning on renting a van to get to some of the more remote areas to bring food and water and to start the rebuilding effort.

Will you go back? 

We don’t know. We didn’t manage to get to what we wanted to do, but we did manage some ministry. We carried over many things that were of use,  baby clothing, stationery, toys, money and  two laptops.

I was scheduled to run a day’s workshop to the ladies of Aanandit Church on the Holy Spirit and the Gifts, but that didn’t take place. However I did speak for a short while to the few that managed to make it – 4 of them – and shared with them Psalm 46, which greatly encouraged them they said. I have left all my materials and books with Shusma and she will run the workshop sometime in the future.

Dave has arranged to help Shusma with the website from Canada, so when they are in a position to even think about that, the two of them can work on it remotely.

Other than that, whether we were a help or a hindrance is debatable. Shusma said that my calmness during the quakes really helped her and made her feel that everything is going to be okay. I explained that was my British “stiff upper lip” upbringing! Running around screaming is definitely not my style.

I would like to go back, but it would only be if I thought that I would be a help not a hindrance.

Knowing Nepal as you do, what are your hopes and prayers for that country and its people?

Of course as Evangelicals, our hope is that this devastation will bring many people to the peace and solace that only a belief in Christ can bring. But there is a stronghold of Hinduism in that country.

My prayer is that Nepal will rebuild stronger than before, and be able to stand on its own two feet independent of the two giants either side of it – India and China, and yes, that it become a Christian nation.

 David and Pauline Streeter live in Uxbridge, Ont. Read the July/August Faith Today for more Nepal updates.

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