Monday, September 19, 2011

September 18th 2011: Earthquake in Nepal

Dear Friends, The earthquake last night was very much felt here but I am ok and everyone at Anandaban is ok. It was my first earthquake and it took some moments to process what was happening. It felt like an impossibly enormous train was running on the other side of the wall. The floor shook and the windows rattled. I ran outside and prayed while dogs barked and the city screamed. It seemed to go on for maybe a long minute. I’d stayed in KTM – where we never lost power or internet during the earthquake. The phone lines, however, were quickly overwhelmed by those trying to check loved ones. It was very odd to sit and wait for google news to detect anyone reporting it. It was too big, even in my inexperienced opinion, not to rank immediate international news. It took about 30 minutes. But contextual and infrastructure limitations are restricting rapid checking of those closest and possibly more strongly affected.


Due to the mountainous and remote terrain, many Nepalese potentially affected by this earthquake live in areas difficult to assess. By remote, I mean 1-5 days walk over steep, high hills to the nearest road or health facility for trauma care. No pictures, reports or video from those areas in Nepal, Tibet or India will be very fast in coming unless someone dedicated is going trek or helicopter out there.  Please pray for those people and the others still trying to contact loved ones.


Thankfully, the seismologists are saying that the rapid occurrence of lesser aftershocks immediately following the 6.9 earthquake was a good sign (barely felt here). They say that if there had been no aftershocks, then it would mean that pressure was building for another soon and bigger earthquake.


Also, if you look at scientific seismological websites, you will observe that the epicenter is just inside the border of Nepal very high up in the mostly uninhabited parts of the Himalayas – but most news websites are initially labeling it the Sikkim or Indian earthquake.  This is likely because the Indian news agencies had the infrastructure, immediately accessible populations affected and capacity to upload pictures and video more rapidly for distribution to many connecting networks nationally and internationally in English. I had trouble even finding news on the radio in Nepali after it happened and did not have a TV to check. Therefore, most of the news first reported that I saw came from India online with pics and video rapidly following.


Regardless, the maps of the border position mean that Indian, Chinese, Nepalese, Bhutanese and Bangladeshis likely all had impact, and all have populations that need to be checked. These are difficult terrains that, going southward, have  increases in population densities as altitude rapidly decreases into the more farmable flatlands (green on the map).  (It’s kind of reminiscent of the hurricanes that often hit the region I grew up in: websites follow the track of the storm’s eye but everyone knows to also consider the broad expanse of territory that the storm can actually effect.)


Earthquake Location


The epicenter that high up in the hills means that the worst shaking happened where there is thankfully most likely few. But the broad coverage of the earthquake was felt by many across Nepal and down to Delhi, India. If you look at this hazard map (where darkness indicates higher risk areas), you’ll see that there were far worse places hosting far more population that could have been hit. But then again, you have to remember that in this region, population densities are relative to millions and billions.


Seismic Hazard Map


The people at Nilphamari in the Leprosy Mission Hospital in the northern tip of Bangladesh are also shaken but ok.


Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.