People walk next to rubble

© Mithila Jariwala / IFRC

In this dramatic and personal account, Helen Brown, who works for the British Red Cross in Nepal, recalls the moment the earthquake hit and the incredible emergency response.

I was sat in the departure lounge of Kathmandu airport waiting to board my plane home when the first earthquake struck.

The whole airport started to shake. Panic spread. People were screaming and pushing each other out of the way.

We managed to get out of the building on to the runway where the shaking continued. I thought the ground might crack open.

I had been due to fly back to the UK for a holiday. Instead, once the tremors had stopped, I managed to get my luggage from the plane and went back through the airport.

It started shaking again. Much to my disbelief, I saw a tourist taking ‘selfies’ next to some debris that had fallen from the ceiling. I jumped in a taxi and headed back into the capital.

It was chaotic in Kathmandu. People had spilled out into the streets, buildings had been razed to the ground and a cloud of dust layered the city. Confusion reigned.

On the front line

For the past three years, the British Red Cross has been supporting the Nepal Red Cross to help communities prepare for an earthquake.

Given the volatile geology of the region, we knew an earthquake could strike at any moment.
When the earthquake struck, we saw the years of training and preparation kick in.

A woman's face

Helen Brown

Being based in Kathmandu, I’d grown to love the city and the people. I was extremely concerned for their wellbeing after such a devastating event.

Like everyone else, the Nepal Red Cross staff and volunteers had suffered a great deal. They had lost their homes, friends and family had been killed, lives had been shattered.

Despite all of this, they were immediately out on the streets doing first aid and search and rescue. They didn’t wait to be told what to do, they just got on with it.

The first rescuers on the scene were absolutely critical. There were very few other aid agencies there in the immediate hours and days after the earthquake.

The Nepal Red Cross have more than 7,000 staff and volunteers working on this response. They sprang into action straight away.

I can’t speak highly enough of their incredible resilience, spirit and dedication.

A woman holds a package

© Mithila Jariwala / IFRC

The need for shelter

As part of our earthquake preparedness programme, we had stored emergency kits for 10,000 families in storage containers in Kathmandu.

Among the items in each kit are blankets, rope, clothing, buckets and crucially, a tarpaulin.

The first night after the 25 April earthquake was cold and wet. People were forced to camp outside so tarpaulins were in high demand.

We gave out thousands of tarpaulins in those initial hours and supplies quickly dwindled as the scale of the destruction became clear.

Shelter remains a huge priority. To date, we’ve distributed nearly 54,000 tarpaulins, providing shelter for some 216,000 people – that’s the equivalent of providing shelter for everyone in Bournemouth and a bit more besides.

The monsoon season begins in June and it’s going to have a huge impact on people whose homes have been destroyed.

There was so much need in those initial hours and days. We wanted to support more people.

I had people calling me 24 hours a day on the phone asking for help – orphanages, people who were affected by landslides, villages that had been cut off.

People were desperate. Not being able to meet all the needs is incredibly hard to accept.

Fear returns

There were over 70 aftershocks and tremors in the days after the earthquake, including one with a magnitude of 6.7 on 26 April.

Just when you thought matters couldn’t get any worse, Nepal was hit by another major earthquake last month.

With the tremors, the fear returned. People were too scared to return to their homes. Again they sought shelter outside.

A lot of thought needs to go into the long-term recovery plan for Nepal. Not only in terms of the physical needs, but also how we help people recover psychologically from such a devastating situation.

Right now there are hundreds of Red Cross workers from across the world in Nepal helping as best they can.

They are experts in what they do – logistics, health, water and sanitation, and shelter construction. It is truly a worldwide effort.

They are supporting the Nepal Red Cross and more importantly, they are supporting the Nepalese people when they need it most.

The UK public has, as always, been incredibly generous in its support of our emergency appeal and for that we are extremely grateful. But as the monsoon season approaches, we still need your help.

Rubble from a collapsed house

© Lucy Keating / IFRC