Employee uses first aid to help in aftermath of Nepal earthquake

Employee uses first aid to help in aftermath of Nepal earthquake

Complete devastation: houses like the one seen here are a common sight in Nepal at the moment

Before the earthquake: TransCanada employee Dana Engler and his son, Shaun Engler, on Kyanjin Ri mountain peak in Langtang Valley

Many of the roads in Nepal were impassable after the earthquake

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - 7:00am

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TransCanada employee Dana Engler and his son, Shaun, had just sat down for lunch at their hotel in Thulo Syabru, Nepal on Apr. 25 when the earth began to heave.

As the walls crashed down around them, they stumbled out of the hotel with their guide while yelling at everyone to get out of the collapsing building.

Within the first 10 seconds of the earthquake, they made it to the pathway by the hotel patio and held on. “I was holding on to a bit of concrete fencing, which fell apart in my hands,” says Dana, an Integration Manager based in Calgary. “My son was looking down at the rocky pathway watching the gaps in the earth open and close, open and close…Everyone was terrified.”

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake lasted 30 to 45 seconds, holding them in its violent grip so tightly they couldn’t move. Dana says, “It was like being in a machine. It was extremely loud. You could hear the sound of the buildings moving along with it – it was a rhythmic move, a rhythmic sound.

“Some buildings were collapsing around us and we could see things falling, we could hear things falling and windows breaking.”

After the ground stopped shaking, they made their way to safety along with villagers and other tourists. Dana carried an injured young girl into the terraced fields just below the village where they waited as powerful aftershocks continued to rock the area every five minutes.

Dana says, “We looked up at the Langtang Valley – it is a really narrow valley – and all we could see was dust and all we could hear were the landslides pouring in.”

Aftermath of a devastating earthquake

The stunning landscapes of Langtang National Park make the region popular with trekkers and climbers.

It was also one of the hardest-hit regions in a series of earthquakes in April and May – which triggered avalanches and landslides – that claimed the lives of almost 9,000 people and left thousands more injured.

Dana and Shaun were among the lucky ones unharmed by the earthquake in Thulo Syabru, a village in Langtang National Park.

They had intended to be in Nepal for 25 days, spending time trekking in Langtang Valley and climbing Yala Peak in the Himalayan mountain range. Instead, they found themselves in the middle of the country’s worst natural disaster in 80 years.

“There were no doctors, there was no help, there was no relief,” says Dana. So they did what they could.

Soon after the first quake hit, a father came running down to ask for help, saying he could hear his son crying for help under the rubble of his home. Along with locals and other tourists, Dana and Shaun tried to rescue the teenager, who had been listening to music and watching TV when the earthquake hit.

He hadn’t heard his family yelling at him to get out. The son ended up succumbing to his injuries.

In the days following the earthquake, villagers started bringing injured people to Dana and his son for medical attention. They cleaned wounds, handed out ibuprofen and helped splint broken bones.

As a former volunteer firefighter who always loved going on wilderness trips and as a TransCanada employee who received company first aid training and has lots of field experience, Dana says his training kicked in.

“We would cut some bamboo for splints and we would use whatever we had in our packs to tape, tie and hold it,” he says.

For the first four days after the earthquake, the villagers sheltered the tourists. Large tarp structures were set up in the fields, sleeping 30 to 40 people, with goats and chickens wandering around outside.

Along with a few other Canadian and German tourists, Dana and his son remained with the Lama family, who owned the hotel they were originally supposed to stay in. The family made dal bhat – rice and curry – twice a day while Dana and Shaun helped gather blankets, padding for the ground and food.

Meanwhile, back home in Calgary, Dana’s wife, Caroline, still hadn’t heard from her husband or son although she was receiving numerous calls from concerned family and friends.

Cell phone communication lines were down, and it took Dana two days before he was able to let her know they were safe.

After calls with the Canadian embassy, Nepalese government officials and their insurance companies, Dana and Shaun realized they weren’t going to be evacuated out of Thulo Syabru – they would have to make it back to the capital city of Kathmandu on their own as many roads in the remote area were impassable by cars.

Hiking to safety

On the morning of the fourth day after the earthquake, Dana and Shaun decided it was time to go. The plan was to hike 40 to 45 kilometres to a small village where they could arrange to have a jeep waiting to take them the rest of the way to Kathmandu.

They started the walk out with their guide, porter, two other Canadian young men and one German tourist. “Our biggest risk was landslides – having a tremor that starts a landslide,” says Dana. “There were abandoned vehicles – some heavily damaged due to the landslides and rock falls.”

At the first landslide they passed, the fearful German tourist turned back and returned to the village.

Meanwhile Dana and Shaun continued their hike to the village of Dhunche, where they stayed the night with the Ghale family, who were running the only restaurant allowed to operate in town because their building was built with bamboo instead of stone, wood and concrete.

The next day, they hiked to their waiting jeep. “The whole time we were crossing landslides, big boulders strewn and highways that were half fallen in, cracked and severely damaged,” says Dana.

Upon arriving in Kathmandu, they made arrangements to fly to Singapore the next day, where Dana has family living. On the plane, Dana says he felt a mix of emotions. “It’s relief for ourselves but our thoughts were with my guide, my outfitter, my friends and the people we met who we were leaving behind.”

Extensive recovery efforts required

Although Dana has been back in Calgary for over a month, his thoughts still remain with the people in Nepal – a country he has now visited three times over the years.

“I keep going back to Nepal because the people are genuine, they’re beautiful, they’re extremely generous,” he says. “We stayed with a family who literally lost everything. And they gave us their hospitality and generosity and shared with us everything they had.”

Even before he left the country, Dana was concerned for the people and the extensive recovery efforts they will face for years. When they left, Dana and Shaun gave the Lama family, their guide and their porter all the remaining rupees they had on them.

Back home, Dana remains concerned about the amount of aid the villagers will receive to rebuild and the long-term future of Langtang National Park.

In fact, Dana says that the first relief aid the village of Thulo Syabru received came eight days after the earthquake. Each family only received two kilograms of rice and a few packages of noodles.

However, Thulo Syabru still fared better in the earthquake than the nearby village of Langtang, which was directly in the pathway of the avalanche of ice and rock that came crashing down into the valley.

“This area that we were in – it’s one of the most popular trekking areas in Nepal – it’s completely done,” he says. “The trails are gone. The village of Langtang is gone. Wiped off the face of this earth. There were very few survivors.

“This village is going to be hurting for three to five years…they evacuated everybody out of Langtang Valley. There is no reason for them to be there. There’s nothing there for them.”

Fundraising efforts at home

Upon returning home, Dana, along with the other Canadians and Germans who stayed with the Lama family, set up a crowdfunding website to raise money to help villagers rebuild Thulo Syabru. They’ve currently raised just over $40,000 of their $50,000 goal – reconstruction funds which will be managed by a village committee.

Almost all buildings in the village – approximately 100 to 150 houses – were either completely destroyed or structurally compromised, forcing residents to completely start over. With monsoon season just around the corner, villagers must live in simple tents in their terraced fields until their homes are repaired or rebuilt.

In addition, Dana is personally raising funds for the Lama family in Thulo Syabru and the Ghale family in Dhunche who sheltered him and his son in the days after the earthquake.

So far, he has raised $4,200 for the families – raising awareness through presentations to the Alpine Club of Canada and his church and passing on a fundraising brochure he created to colleagues, friends and family.

Dana says many locals from remote areas are now migrating towards Kathmandu because “that’s the only place for them to go, to restart…even if it’s just to live.”

His hope is that by directly contributing financial aid to the villagers who warmly welcomed him and his son even when they had nothing themselves, the locals will be able to avoid this fate and instead rebuild their lives in the Langtang Valley region.