Although it is almost a month since a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, the humanitarian work continues 24 hours a day.
Two West Midlands Ambulance Service paramedics are just about to return from the country after doing their part to help the people of that country
They were the fourth and fifth members of staff to fly out. One of the first on scene was Dr Malcolm Russell, one of the Trust’s Medical Incident Officers and a BASICS Doctor in the Mercia Accident Rescue Service (MARS) scheme from Herefordshire. This is his account of his time in Nepal:
“On arrival, we established a base of operations in the grounds of the British Embassy, living in tented accommodation. Being experienced in working in post-earthquake areas, the team always prefers tents in open areas which are generally safer than moving straight into un-surveyed buildings with the inevitable aftershocks which follow.
“Our operations began in Kathmandu, with the UK ISAR team being given a specific sector in which to work. The team found that most live rescues had been completed already and that most dead bodies had already been recovered. It soon became apparent that the main area of need was in the more remote mountainous areas which had only been visited briefly by military helicopters, dropping in aid and removing the more serious casualties. Otherwise many of these areas had remain completely isolated and out of touch with very little information coming out about the extent of the damage suffered.
“We spent most of the next week, on request of the Nepalese government, re-focussing on an area outlying the town of Chautara about 50km to the north-east of Kathmandu. Whereas Kathmandu had pockets of destruction with many buildings remaining intact, the team found villages in the countryside where 95% of all buildings had been completely flattened.
“The scale of destruction was incredible. It was certainly fortunate that the earthquake struck in the daytime on a Saturday, when many people would have been outside, or at least able to run outside quickly. Few were in the larger public buildings and there is no doubt that the death toll would have been far worse in the earthquake had struck at night. Even so, there had been large numbers of dead and injured and it was very saddening to see whole villages completely destroyed.
“We initially walked into some very remote areas and later had helicopter flights to gain access to the area. The team gathered information about immediate needs – which were mainly shelter, food and water – provided structural assessment of surviving buildings, gathered important data about remaining village populations, casualty numbers and on-going health needs. This vital information was then fed back to the humanitarian organisations and the Nepalese government.
“During our work we found an elderly man with a fractured ankle with open wounds and a woman with a broken arm. Neither had been reached previously by any rescue or medical organisation and this was a week after the earthquake had struck. We were able to get them evacuated to hospital almost immediately.
“Working on information provided by local villagers, we also discovered a four year old girl who had been lying on a wooden bed for eight days unable to move, being nursed by her anxious family who did not have access to any medical care.
“When we examined her, it was clear that she had a fractured femur (thigh) so a helicopter evacuation was immediately organised to a large Israeli field hospital in Kathmandu where she was successfully treated. It was surprising to find such major trauma over a week after the earthquake and the poor girl had suffered an awful amount of distress. We were very pleased to have been able to help her and her family.”
Back in Kathmandu a specialist rope access team of UK ISAR was working to stabilise a precarious piece of concrete hanging dangerously over the main entrance to a teaching hospital. By making the building safe, the hospital was able to increase from 50 hospital beds in use to almost 400 beds overnight, a dramatically positive impact for the local area.
Back in the UK, Dr Russell said: “There is still a huge amount of humanitarian work which will have to continue for many months – even years – but it is pleasing to have been able to contribute during the first most difficult days following the earthquake.
“Nepal is an amazing country with remarkably resilient and friendly people, but there has been such horrendous devastation that this small country will need all the help it can get. It will take a long time for Nepal to get back on its feet, and I hope people will continue to support the relief work in the months to come.”
Note to Editors:
The 46 year-old was deployed as part of the UK International Search and Rescue (ISAR) team, which included 67 personnel and 4 search dogs, that flew out the day after the earthquake hit.
UK ISAR is self-sufficient for 10 days of continuous operations, taking 12 tonnes of equipment, food and water when it deploys. The deployment of UK ISAR is initiated and supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and is therefore seen as the UK’s official response