Nepal quake: S’pore woman’s 20-hour wait for good news
S'porean woman desperately tries to contact sister and three other S'poreans trekking on Mount Everest
The sound of silence was deafening.
She looked at her mobile phone for the umpteenth time willing it to beep, ring, anything.
Each passing hour marked another notch in her rising anxiety.
For 20 hours she endured, then the long awaited call finally came - her sister, who had been trekking on Mount Everest, was safe.
Her ordeal began as soon as she heard the news of the massive quake in Nepal on Saturday evening. She tried messaging her sister but there was no response.
The 29-year-old woman turned to Twitter to post: "Looking for word of MEZZA group from Singapore climbing Everest."
Her 23-year-old sister and three other Singaporeans were on an expedition to climb Mount Everest.
In her desperation, the elder sister had also tried to reach out on Facebook to friends and family members of the other climbers to ask if they had heard from the team.
But her search for answers did not appear fruitful when The New Paper contacted her at 4.45pm yesterday.
Said the 29-year-old woman: "I texted her a few times but there was no response. I was told that it was normal not to get a connection because the team was descending the mountain."
The woman declined to be named because she did not want to alarm her grandmother, who is not aware of the situation.
While uncertain of her younger sibling's safety and whereabouts, one online report from Channel NewsAsia (CNA) suggested that the group was in good hands.
One of the climbers' cousins had sent CNA an e-mail at 2.49pm yesterday, saying: "We just got a text from the team that everyone is safe and are descending to safer altitudes".
But she was not convinced. She tried messaging again and got no response.
Then just before 8pm, the news she was waiting for came - a phone call from the sister of Team MEZZA member Zane Lee.
Mr Lee had called his sister, who later informed the woman of the team's situation.
Mr Lee also texted TNP to say all members of the team were safe and that they were resting at Namche Bazaar, a Sherpa village.
The group was at Dingboche on Saturday on their acclimatisation hike to 4,700m. It was while they were returning down to the lodge for lunch that the earthquake happened.
Mr Lee said: "We felt tremors and heard there was an avalanche... We didn't run for cover as we didn't know it was a serious earthquake."
The team felt a couple of aftershocks. They realised later there was no mobile phone network.
They decided to stay put and abandon the two-day climb from Dingboche to Everest base camp.
Yesterday morning, they made the eight-hour journey to Namche Bazaar, located at 3,440m above sea level.
Mr Lee said: "We saw some house destroyed while moving to lower altitudes today. Some had set up tents outside their houses."
With a mobile phone network available at Namche, they called their families yesterday evening. Naturally, they were relieved to hear from the climbers.
Yet, the woman remained cautious even after receiving news of her sister's whereabouts.
She said: "Everything is more calm now but nobody can say they're really at ease. I will truly be relieved when I see my sister at home."
Last night, the Ministry Foreign Affairs said it had contacted the majority of the registered Singaporeans in Nepal.
"Nonetheless, there are some Singaporeans who remain uncontactable, probably due to the disruption of the local communication network, and MFA is doing its best to contact them."
Help from S'pore to arrive today
REASSURANCE: DPM Teo Chee Hean met with the Gurkhas in Singapore yesterday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS
Singapore will commit resources to help with disaster relief efforts following the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will deploy a medical team of around 15 personnel. There will also be personnel from the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre.
The Ministry of Defence will be coordinating this deployment with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
Part of the plan is to arrange for Singaporeans to leave Nepal via Republic of Singapore Air Force aircraft, scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu today, carrying the Home Team and SAF contingents supporting search and rescue and other disaster relief efforts.
The MFA despatched a Crisis Response Team to Kathmandu yesterday. This team is based at the Kathmandu International Airport to assist Singaporeans.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean reaffirmed Singapore's commitment to the relief efforts when he visited the Gurkhas in Singapore yesterday morning.
Mr Teo, who is also Minister for Home Affairs, was briefed on the situation in Nepal, and thanked, on his Facebook page, many generations of Gurkhas for their service to Singapore.
He posted yesterday: "SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force), SPF (Singapore Police Force) and SAF team ready to depart, including some from GC (Gurkha Contingent) to help with search and rescue, victim identification and medical support."
The Singapore Red Cross (SRC) said yesterday it will be disbursing $50,000 worth of relief items and emergency supplies. The Singapore Government has also contributed $100,000 as seed money to support SRC's public appeal for donations.
HOW TO DONATE:
Singapore Red Cross will be accepting walk-in donations starting today at Red Cross House, 15 Penang Lane, from 9am to 6pm on Mondays to Fridays.
Please make your cheque payable to 'Singapore Red Cross Society'. Write 'Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund', donor's name, contact number and address at the back, and post it to Red Cross House, 15 Penang Lane, Singapore 236486.
'It's a tumbling building of white'
HUGE: A cloud of snow and debris triggered by the earthquake flies towards Everest Base Camp. PHOTO: AFP
Singapore-based marine biologist George Foulsham recalled how he was knocked off his feet by what he called "a 50-storey building of white" during Saturday's 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal that has killed more than 2,300 people.
A massive avalanche unleashed by the earthquake swept through the base camp at Mount Everest, where he and more than 1,000 climbers had gathered at the start of the climbing season.
The avalanche killed at least 18 people, an AFP team at the scene reported.
"I ran and it just flattened me. I tried to get up and it flattened me again. I couldn't breathe, I thought I was dead," said Mr Foulsham.
"When I finally stood up, I couldn't believe it passed me over and I was almost untouched."
Pictures taken by AFP's South Asia photo chief Roberto Schmidt showed an enormous cloud of snow and debris cascading down the mountain on Saturday.
Like many of the climbers, Mr Foulsham, 38, had returned to base camp for a second shot at the summit of the world's highest mountain after last year's climbing season was cancelled for the first time ever.
"I saved for years to climb Everest, (but) it feels like the mountain is saying it's not meant to be climbed for now," he said. "It's too much of a coincidence to see this twice in two years."
US climber and cardiologist Ellen Gallant described how she had tried to help those who were injured, but couldn't save a victim who died before her eyes.
She told AFP: "I was outside, saw this huge blast cloud coming down. I ran into the tent, threw myself on the floor."
She said another doctor worked through the night, doing rounds, handing out medication and putting in intravenous drips.
"Of the nine patients, one of them died last night - a 25-year-old sherpa. His blood pressure had fallen. There was nothing we could do."
Powerful aftershocks rocked Nepal yesterday, causing panic.
Many residents, who were already camping out in the capital because the earthquake had reduced buildings to rubble, were jolted by the 6.7-magnitude aftershock.
At over-stretched hospitals, where medics were treating patients in hastily-erected tents, staff were forced to flee buildings for fear of further collapses.
"Electricity has been cut off, communication systems are congested and hospital are crowded and are running out of room for storing dead bodies," Oxfam Australia chief executive Helen Szoke told AFP.
Disaster officials said nearly 6,000 people were injured in Saturday's quake. - Wires.
MORE THAN 2,300 KILLED IN NEPAL QUAKE
WHAT: A 7.8-magnitude earthquake
WHEN: Noon, Saturday (about 2pm, Singapore time)
WHERE: Nepal and affected parts of India, China and Bangladesh.
The quake was followed by at least 15 aftershocks, with the last one of 6.7 magnitude occurring yesterday.
WHO: More than 2,300 people have been killed and nearly 6,000 injured.
The quake struck at a busy time of the year for the country's trekking and climbing season, with an estimated 300,000 foreign tourists in the country, and several hundred on Mount Everest.
Breakdown of some of the casualties by nationalities:
AUSTRALIA: Dozens still missing, reported ABC news.
BANGLADESH: Four reported killed in Bangladesh.
CHINA: 18 killed in Tibet region and 10 seriously injured.
INDIA: 67 reported killed in India.
LATVIA: Four who were in Nepal are missing.
SOUTH KOREA: Foreign ministry says three nationals injured in the earthquake.
UNITED STATES: At least two climbers are dead, including San Francisco-based Google engineer Dan Fredinburg, reported NY Post. - Wires.