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Asia

Hope and courage bind Nepal after quake

The people of Nepal are struggling to come to grips with the damage caused by the massive earthquake that rocked the country less than a week ago. Anu Singh Choudhary reports from Kathmandu.

"I was washing clothes. Children were watching TV. It was a usual Saturday till this most horrifying thing happened. I thought I was feeling giddy because I have been unwell for a while. Then I heard my husband and children scream. By the time we ran out of our house, it already had several cracks in it," says Dhan Gautam, 40, a mother of four. The Gautam family moved to the relief camp from their house in Lagan, Kathmandu on Saturday itself, the day their entire neighborhood was battered by the quake.

Janak Singh, their neighbor in Lagan, had a bigger challenge at hand. His only daughter Sonu Thapa was full-term pregnant and couldn't even walk, let alone run, to save her life. Sonu had to be rescued with the help of neighbors and was rushed to the hospital immediately. She gave birth to her daughter in a makeshift ward in the same Bir hospital which was flooded with thousands of injured quake victims.

Sonu brought her tiny daughter "home" - to her father's tent in the relief camp - on Wednesday.

Sonu cradles her child, sitting in a car

Sonu gave birth to her daughter on the day of earthquake

Nearly a week after the country's worst earthquake in 81 years, people are still struggling to fathom the extent of the damage - both tangible, and intangible.

"We have surrendered now. What is it that we can do, except saving our lives? Even that is not under our control. We are helpless in front of nature. A week ago we had a house and a livelihood. We had friends and families. We had savings, and a false notion that the future is safe. It didn't even take a moment and our lives have changed forever," mumbles Vikas Sharma before dismissing me completely. "I don't want to talk. There is nothing to talk about," he keeps muttering under his breath.

Vikas was standing outside his shop when the iconic 62-meter (203-foot) Dharahara building first started wobbling, and then came crashing down. On Saturday over 150 people had bought tickets to climb the tower to watch the spectacular view of Kathmandu Valley. Only 50 came out. The tower also buried some of the shops and houses close to it. Vikas is safe, and so is his shop. But the trauma and emotional damage is a heavy burden to carry.

Devastated buildings, devastated lives

Sameer, Neta Rai and Usha Pokhra are college students from Lalitpur district in Kathmandu Valley. The three friends decided to volunteer on their own, and are now helping the rescue team clear rubbles near Patan Darbar Square, Lalitpur. Built in the third century, Patan Durbar Square had temples made in different styles, and was believed to be the best example of stone architecture in Nepal. Even on day 5, sniffer dogs and rescue teams are focusing on taking out trapped bodies beneath these fallen buildings.

"It will never be the same again. We used to come to the Banglamukhi Mandir every Thursday to offer prayers. This place will always remind me of devastation," Sameer says and then goes back to clearing the rubble almost mechanically. His biggest relief is, his family is safe, even though the house has so many cracks that it will take months to repair it. The medical staff in Patan Hospital, Lalitpur has seen a total of 1,017 patients till now, mostly with orthopedic injuries.

Another heritage city near Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, is completely devastated. The historical brickwork and tiled houses Bhaktapur was famous for have turned into debris - damaged beyond recognition. Some of the temples, however, remain miraculously unharmed. The pagodas around the royal square stand tall against the devastated structures, their steps guarded by lions and elephants carved out of single stones.

Pushpa Rajmala searches for her belongings in a street piled with rubble

Pushpa Rajmala searches for her belongings

Pushpa Rajmala is trying to look for some of her belongings in her house, which is nothing more than a heap of dust and stone now. In the next lane some 100 meters away, rescuers try to dig out bodies from the debris. Some onlookers stand and watch haplessly. They do not even know where or how to begin putting back pieces of their shattered lives.

Bhaktapur was home to at least 250 who died in the earthquake, and over three thousand people who have now moved to the relief camp at the Padma School. Bhaktapur was only 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the epicenter. Further up the hills, flattened villages remain largely inaccessible, and the survivors can only be airlifted. The extent of damage there is still unknown.

Lucky to have survived

"Sixty-five percent of Bhaktapur depended on tourism. With the entire town gone, and no history or heritage to boast of, we don't know how we will survive. It will take several years, probably one whole generation for us to heal these wounds," says Robin Raya, a cook with one of the local restaurants. He has lost both his house, and his work place. The only solace is that he was able to run out unscathed, even though his neighbor next door was trapped in the building. His body could be pulled out only a day later.

"We are very lucky to have survived. If God granted us our lives, he will show us the way too," his friend Madhu Sharma is more optimistic.

Robin and Madhu at Bhaktapur relief camp. Madhu's house is in the background

Robin and Madhu are among the fortunate at Bhaktapur relief camp. Madhu's house is seen in the background.

Back in Kathmandu, in the relief camp, Sonu has decided to call her daughter "Devi" - the goddess - who Sonu says saved her and her family from a calamity. Lying down safely in her mother's lap, little Devi is oblivious of the damage around her. But she has definitely given a reason for her family and people around her to smile.

Hope and courage is the hidden thread that binds the scattered lives together, despite angry "weather gods" and fears of tremors that keep the Nepalese on edge.

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