Wed, May 20, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Foreigners and Nepalese united by grief over their loss after deadly quakes

Carole Cadwalladr trekked to Everest just before the first earthquake hit Nepal last month and went back to the country to help. The second quake has left many foreigners and Nepalese dead, and she has found that trauma has forged strong emotional bonds

By Carole Cadwalladr  /  The Observer

Illustration: Mountain people

The only way Yasmine Habash can describe the Langtang Valley is “tragically beautiful.”

Even in a country that has seen so much devastation and so much personal heartbreak, what happened to the village of Langtang is in a different league. Moments after the earthquake struck, a massive expanse of ice fell thousands of meters, creating an avalanche that wiped out a community where 400 people lived and where, at that moment, nearly 100 foreign trekkers are believed to have been.

In a matter of seconds, Langtang Village was wiped off the face of the Earth and, in Kathmandu last week, Habash described what it was like to visit the place where it used to be: “It is so stunning up there, but I just could not look at the beauty of it because it hurt knowing that so much pain is in that area.”

The pain is because her 57-year-old mother, Dawn, was trekking in Langtang and still has not been found. Official search-and-rescue attempts were recently called off — the authorities said it was too dangerous to continue. However, recently, Habash, 30, told how she had spent six days searching for her mother in an otherwise desolate and empty valley. She gave up only when the Nepalese army insisted on evacuating her earlier last week.

“It was deserted. There were a few local people who were there searching for relatives, but otherwise it was just us. The US embassy told us not to go, but I was determined to find her,” she said.

It was an incredibly risky — some would say foolhardy — thing to do. At the same time as Habash was in the valley with her boyfriend, Reid Harris, 32, and a local guide, 23-year-old Sunil Tamang, I visited Shyaphru Besi, at the head of the trail, a ghost village of ruined hotels and destroyed houses, a continuous landslide from the mountain above.

In the neighboring town of Dunche, the chief conservation officer of the national park told me: “You cannot go into the valley now. It is too dangerous. Another avalanche or landslide could happen at any time.”

In fact it did. On Habash’s third day, just after she and Harris had left the valley floor, another avalanche hit, sweeping across the ground they had spent all day searching. Still, they continued to look above the slide until they were forcibly evacuated, narrowly missing another massive avalanche caused by Tuesday last week’s magnitude 7.3 quake.

All over Kathmandu, the relatives of missing trekkers are still gathering in embassies around the city.

Briton Greg Carapiet, the father of missing 23-year-old student, Matt Carapiet, described how he, too, had been on the ground in Langtang two weeks ago before trying to search for his son.

“I desperately wanted to stay and search for Matt among the fallen rocks and boulders,” he said.

He was forced to leave.

“I felt I had failed my son. I was distraught,” he said.

On the last day of the official search, Matt’s body was found and the family were finally able to bring him home.

“The whole thing has been so frustrating. I just wanted to see Matthew’s body before he was repatriated and I was not allowed. It was an awful, awful day. I managed in the end, but it was through sheer perseverance and not giving up,” Greg Carapiet said.

UNKNOWN TOLL

No one knows exactly how many people are still missing in the area, but it is estimated that 183 Nepalese and between 50 and 70 foreigners have died, and at least 100 people, both foreign and Nepalese, are still unaccounted for.

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