SA couple lived in fear of death after quake

2015-05-02 07:53
Mike Sherman and Kate Ahrends describe how they lived in fear of death after the Nepal earthquake. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

Mike Sherman and Kate Ahrends describe how they lived in fear of death after the Nepal earthquake. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

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Kathmandu - South African couple Kate Ahrends and Mike Sherman lived in fear of death for six days after the massive earthquake which struck Nepal last week.

Ahrends fought back tears as she sat in front of cameras that captured the first message from the couple since they were stranded in the mountains. Speaking during an ad hoc press conference, the Capetonian relived the moments when the earth began to shake.

“We are so grateful to be alive. We thought we were going to die every day and every tremor brought with it moments of fear.

“You are so helpless when you are out there, and you realise that the world is so much more powerful than you are when boulders the size of cars were flying down the mountain. Six days felt like six months because we were living moment to moment with the constant fear that we may die,” she said.

“We set off a week ago from a small village with several friends. It was a week ago and it feels like a year ago because I have no sense of time.

'Everything started vibrating'

“We were walking in the mountains for a couple of hours and we entered into a very narrow valley. At that point we were in-between tea houses and suddenly everything starting vibrating and moving and for a moment we thought it wasn't real.

“At that stage we ran to the mountain and just covered our heads and once the moment had passed Mike ran back and found the other girls who had jumped off the edge of the bridge and found shelter. We found a rock that we hid under for a while and that was the basis of what happened in that minute. It was terrifying, it felt like the mountain had exploded. Massive boulders were flying off the mountain,” she said.

“The ground was opening up and cracking everywhere and we were really exposed. When the quake happened we found a tiny alcove where were we protected from all of the falling rocks. We scrambled down a hill and found a house that had been completely flattened. A Nepali woman and her son were weeping,” Ahrends said.

They started towards a tea house and met other groups of hikers.

“Once the main tremor had passed we found two Dutch trekkers and they had a guide and porter, and between them and us we went back down the mountain over trees and landslides and at the last tea-house we had passed we found scores of other people. Once the massive shock had passed it was a group effort to make a shelter, led by some guys from Israel,” she said.


Sherman said it was an emotional blow when helicopters came to rescue other hikers and had to leave them behind.

“When the first helicopters came it was a big day for us and we thought we were all going to get out, but they took the elderly and the injured. It was a huge blow for us and there were a lot of highs and lows and it was frightening to be left behind,” he said.

“We know there has been a lot of hype around our story and we appreciate all of the international efforts to help us, but we can all agree that it is now the Nepali people who need all the help,” he said.

There were daily landslides and aftershocks. They decided to stay for six days without knowing the state of the trails leading back to the major centres.

The military flew them to an army base and they arrived safely at the Gift of the Givers' compound in Kathmandu late on Friday night.

The 7.8 magnitude quake struck Nepal last Saturday and is thought to have left over 6 000 people dead.

Most of the rescue and humanitarian effort has been focused on Kathmandu, with outlying villages and hamlets largely inaccessible, except by helicopter.

'Everyone is welcome here'

Gift of the Givers' head Imtiaz Sooliman said he would open his doors to anyone in need.

“One thing we wanted to achieve here was to bring a search and rescue team to find live people and recover bodies to give closure. We also wanted to help the South Africans that had been lost,” he said.

“We wanted to try find the scattered South Africans and help them get home. Their presence here has sparked interest around the world and last night we received a request from Belgium to try and find a missing man.

“This should be a message to anyone in South Africa and across the world who knows of someone who is missing, please direct anyone in need to our camp. Everyone is welcome here, it does not matter where they come from,” Sooliman said.

A specialist medical team of surgeons, nurses and wound-care specialists arrived in Nepal on Friday. They will be deployed to various hospitals in the city.

Collapse sites are spread across the city and are interspersed with buildings that remain standing, but have been badly damaged, evacuated, and condemned.

Rescue teams from across the globe are working together to unearth anyone who remains alive beneath the rubble, or bodies that are trapped.

With every day that passes, the likelihood of finding survivors diminishes significantly.

- Jeff Wicks is in Kathmandu courtesy of Gift of the Givers.

Read more on:    gift of the givers  |  nepal  |  nepal earthquake

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