I have only been in a position to give an update now, so apologies for the delay.
First of all, I finally got confirmations from pretty much everyone I know in Nepal that they are safe with no casualties as far as I am aware. Miraculous really give the devastation on the ground. So although alive, the circumstances are very difficult:
- All are spending their second night outside tonight. The aftershocks continue, with a particularly strong aftershock measuring 6.7 on Sunday morning Nepal time. It’s still dangerous times.
- Potable water and food is scarce.
- Roads are for the most part inadmissable. Fortunately, the road from Kathmandu to SIRC in Bhainsepati seems intact. It is a recently built road funded by China – it’s the primary highway into Kathmandu for the import of goods.
- There is no electricity so communication is becoming a real problem with cell phone batteries now dying.
- It is raining hard and the wind is blowing in the Kathmandu Valley. Temporary covers are too flimsy to keep the rain out and/or are being blown away. It is sheer misery. They need a break.
- In the Khumbu region (Everest region), they’ve had much snow since Saturday and got a window today to allow helicopters into base camp to evacuate injured Sherpas and foreign climbers. All able-bodied not needed to care for the injured at base camp are walking out the valley in the hope to making it back to Kathmandu.
- In the higher camps where over 100 Sherpas and climbers remain (the route down the mountain has been blown away), the aftershocks continue to trigger avalanches making it very dangerous.
- With little infrastructure in the villages close to the epi-centre, there are very few updates but initial reports tell us of many landslides and multiple homes razed to the ground. With the number of deaths over 2,500 and climbing (and casualties numbers significantly higher), it’s expected the numbers will greatly increase once these remote villages can communicate. As the doctors I have spent the day with today have said, it’s more likely there are higher casualties than deaths in the villages given the tallest buildings potentially collapsing are just two stories at a maximum.
- Hospitals continue to be inundated with patients as the rescue effort continues. More than 24 hours after the initial quake, people are still being pulled alive from the rubble.
- There is a desperate need for blood donations and for medical supplies. More medical expertise is needed.
You will have heard on the news that countries including Canada, are sending it’s DART team to Nepal to provide initial emergency response to allow local governments and INGOs get organized and take over the response to this disaster. This buys the organizations on the ground a little time to get coordinated. Hopefully these teams will relieve some of the immediate needs of the Nepalese: food, water, accommodation as well as lay the foundation for logistical plans.
It’s very challenging times for the Nepalese. They are resilient, creative and have a huge sense of community. Social media has been instrumental in mobilizing the Nepalese themselves. I saw a callout for engineers to assess buildings so that people could at least not be afraid to return home and get off the streets. Young men are clearing away the rubble one brick at a time, assisting the Nepalese Police in the search & rescue efforts. The Nepalese are joining hands (the term they use to work together), rolling up their sleeves and improving their situation as best they can. I did not expect anything less.
We know SIRC is doing fine, but have no further details. Peter, Claire and I have a skype call with the SIRC board and senior staff tonight (tomorrow morning Nepal time) to discuss the help they need and in what form so that it is useful. I’ll keep you posted on what they need once we have that conversation.
We also had an update from SIRC Board Member Dr Anil Shrestha who is a senior staff member at Nepal Orthopedic Hospital in Kathmandu. This is an extract from his email, it gives you a sense of the sheer volume of casualties who need surgery, and how the need is relentless.
“The physical structure of the hospital is still intact but due to repeated jolts the patients are refusing to stay inside for which they are justified. This is making things a bit difficult. On the first day we must have seen and gave primary treatment to over 200 patients. We discharged over 20 operated patients to have beds for the new patients.
Today we made a makeshift operation theatre on the ground floor for safety of the patients and staffs and easier evacuation. Though we had more than 15 patients lined up for surgery we could only do 3 because of another 6.8 Richter scale jolt this morning. Today over 100 patients were given primary treatment. We have more than 50 patients that require immediate surgery and more patients who were discharged after primary treatment will be coming.
Our biggest difficulties are continuous jolts, lack of proper infrastructure to keep and treat the patients outside, inability to start full fledged operation. Once everything is settled and we can operate in full swing we will have a clearer picture.”
The arrival of Médecins Sans Frontières teams and medical teams from other organizations will compliment the relief work already started by the Nepalese themselves.
It’s been an interesting day for me. I am just a business person with no real practical experience in the provision of disaster aid so all I did today was tune into skype calls and where appropriate, apply my practical mind to things. Having lived in Nepal and worked at SIRC, it at least gives me some sightlines into what is practically possible.
As you may already know, Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks (SpiNepal) are the people who connected me with SIRC in the first place and have a wealth of contacts around the world, not only in SCI (spinal cord injury) but also in disaster aid. Today from my home on Bowen Island, there were many skype calls to medical and disaster aid experts in Bangladesh, Belgium and earlier in Canada.
Acute care is being provided by many of the hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley and I believe that will continue, shored up with the support of Médecins Sans Frontières and other international medical aid agencies. SIRC will be asked to handle all spinal rehabilitation needs post surgery. This is a litmus test for SIRC and is why we are having that skype call with them tonight. They know what they need, it’s just good to bounce it off people to validate it.
Handicap International (HI) have worked closely with Médecins Sans Frontières in other disaster zones and they will continue to work as a coordinated unit in Nepal. HI are long established in Nepal which greatly helps the assessment of what is needed. No guessing needed, no making contacts (they have them already) – they can just do.
It’s with HI we were discussing the practicalities of getting what might be Nepal’s only two spinal experts (Dr Raju and Dr Jas) home to Nepal for the next month or so. They are currently in SCI rehab training in Dhaka. Dr Prakash is also associated with SIRC and is far along in his studies to be a neuro surgeon. He currently is in China and SpiNepal are assisting him to get home to Nepal, not only for his skills but also to his pregnant wife who is currently sleeping on the streets along with her neighbours in Kathmandu. Dr Raju’s wife Sheela is a social worker so she may also join the team in Nepal. For more information on those plans, take a look at SpiNepal’s latest blog update.
Much of yesterday was spent in a bit of a panic trying to locate the 50 or so people I know in Nepal, making sure they were OK. Now that I know they are OK, I could make today a more meaningful day to better concentrate on how I can help …. which really is not much! Just listen and be practical, it’s all I am worth.
More updates to come as they become available. Thanks all for your continued support and prayers for Nepal.