It was turbulence — Lauren Pauls knew that. But after enduring a major earthquake, as well as aftershocks and a second major earthquake just hours before take-off, every time her May 12 flight from Nepal to Maryland hit a rough patch of air, she had to convince her body otherwise.
"I kept saying to myself: 'This is not an earthquake! This is not an earthquake!' " she said. "I feel like my adrenaline is constantly going. Anything that shakes you a little bit, your adrenaline starts going."
A 2002 graduate of South Carroll High School, Pauls has lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, for the past two years with her husband, Justin Pauls, and 20-month-old son, Josiah. The family serves as a central coordination hub there for teams of volunteers from Youth With a Mission, a Christian missionary organization.
YWAM is focused primarily on spreading the gospel, but after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook the Himalayan country to its foundations on April 25 — and the subsequent 7.3-magnitude tremor added further destruction on May 12 — Pauls said their mission transitioned to coordinating relief efforts for the people of Nepal.
"Since we were already in the city when it happened, we have been the ones organizing it," she said. "People have been sending us teams for manpower."
If it were not for a friend's wedding they had planned to attend, the Pauls would still be in Kathmandu — they were packing for their flight when the second quake hit. Pauls' father still lives in Woodbine, where she grew up, but her family cannot linger stateside. They are needed in Nepal, she said. Justin Pauls is now in charge of organizing the YWAM relief teams, and in three weeks, they plan to return.
"My husband has to go back: He's pretty essential," she said. "I am going to wait and see how things are going in three weeks. If there is a lot of illness, I may stay with our son a little longer."
The shaking earth
The day of the first quake, Pauls and her family were at an open-air market at a hotel in the city. Pauls was near the hotel swimming pool, walking with her son as he explored, when it happened.
"The first thing I noticed was all the birds just suddenly took off in a flock. I was looking at the birds and then felt — started to feel — things shaking," she said. "It was so loud. It sounded almost like a helicopter landing right above us."
The shaking was so violent that the water was thrown from the hotel swimming pool and sent rushing along the street where Pauls and Josiah had been walking.
"There was a wave of water in front of us," she said. "I lived in Hawaii for five years, so in my head I thought, 'A tidal wave!' "
Grabbing Josiah, Pauls tried to run toward the parking lot where her husband had gone just moments before the earth began to move, but the shaking bought her to the ground, and she eventually threw herself over her son and prayed until it was over.
"It went on for a minute, just really violent shaking. The hotel, you could see it just moving back and forth," Pauls said. "I was staring at the tree next to us, just like, 'Please don't come down.' It felt like it was never going to stop."
It finally did — none of the three were hurt — but Pauls said it was at least an hour before anyone dared move because of the powerful, continual aftershocks. Many of the newer buildings around them, including the hotel and the Pauls' family house, remained standing, but the older temples and homes built of old and nonreinforced concrete or brick did not. When they finally started to move, it was to the soccer field of a nearby international school, the sort of ground that would become precious to the displaced survivors in the days that followed.
"Kathmandu is actually a valley — the mountains are around us — just filled with buildings. It's so crowded, it's hard to find open spaces to run to," Pauls said. "Whenever there was an open space, it would just be filled with people sleeping."
Many homes that survived were cracked, and even the owners of those structures that seemed fine remained leery, Pauls said, opting to sleep outside even a week after the first earthquake. And then the second earthquake hit.
"I think having the second one was just emotionally debilitating," Pauls said. "They were finally feeling safe, and then we have a second one."
The second quake was far less severe than the first — Pauls and her family were able to walk safely downstairs from their second-story home, but she said the dust from the final collapse of all the structures compromised by the first quake could be seen rising over the city.
For all of the destruction in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital city, Pauls said the many rural villages had it worse, and most were cut off from help by rock slides and avalanches triggered by the earthquakes. Word had come to the Pauls about another woman from Maryland — not someone they knew, but a fellow missionary who was trapped in the mountains.
Holly in the hills
The Himalayan village of Hindi straddles the Araniko Highway in northeast-central Nepal, just a few miles south of the border with China and 64 miles from Katmandu by road, a two-hour-plus drive. Sitting at a lofty perch of more than 10,000 feet, its structures and fields climb the mountainsides stepwise with steep stone terraces.
Hindi was a village of 3,000 people when Holly Maloy arrived there in early March to teach its burgeoning Christian community to preach the gospel with her Fulton-based mission organization, Eastgate International Ministries. By April 26, she said, the population was closer to 2,000.
"They lost about 1,000, either the day of the earthquake or overnight," Maloy said. "Because of the rock, they really couldn't bury anyone — so many bodies. They build these terraces and use animal dung to build up the soil, but it isn't very deep."
Maloy was inside the village church on April 25 when it happened, she remembers. She was reading from 1 Corinthians, "Love is patient, love is kind."
"The earthquake hit. From there it becomes slightly blurry," she said. "Time slows down."
Maloy found herself in a doorway with a small child and a blind man, who was screaming. Behind them, a pair of French doors were flagellating wildly in the throes of the earth, she said.
"They were going faster than we could see. … We had to get these shutters stable," Maloy said. "I got one behind my back; the blind man got the other and held the little boy between his legs."
When it was over, the church was still standing, but Maloy said fear of flooding from a debris-strewn river and the risk of further building collapse from the aftershocks sent the people in search of open ground. She found herself in a cornfield, helping with first aid as best she could.
"I gave my friend the only [pain relievers] I had," Maloy said. "I had hand sanitizer, wet wipes, just in my purse — they had nothing. I became like a medical center."
Whereas much of Kathmandu remained standing after the earthquake, Maloy said the region around Hindi was knocked flat. The bus station and the three-story hospital collapsed, while the mountains themselves continued to shed boulders and rubble long after the initial shaking, thanks to the aftershocks.
"We had tremors approximately every 30 minutes from the beginning throughout the week," she said. "The Himalayas, they are not granite like the Rockies; they are pushed-up seabed. There is a lot of shale, clay, rubble."
Landslides cut Hindi off from the rest of the world, as they had many of the rural villages in Nepal, and Maloy moved about with the survivors for days before a Nepalese Army helicopter arrived. It took six days for her to reach Kathmandu.
"I was in another camp for three nights, and then they moved me to be evacuated as a foreigner," she said. "By the time I hit the American embassy, I kind of fell apart. They were asking questions and I couldn't answer."
Maloy returned to Maryland on May 3 and since then has been working to raise funds for her friends in Nepal, as relief efforts are still having trouble reaching the outermost affected areas, she said.
"I am telling people everywhere I go that there is this need," she said. "Please consider helping because the government is not. There is a caste system very much like India and because of that, the lower-caste people are not getting relief. … The farmers and the poor — they are not getting relief. It goes to the higher-caste people."
Maloy left before the second earthquake, but she heard from a Nepalese friend staying in Kathmandu on Friday who told her that tremor has only made things worse.
"He said the quake on Tuesday completely blocked the way to his village, so they are totally cut off now," she said. "His parents are there, and the water is bad now. I hope they can come down. There isn't much to eat, but they may feel they need to protect their place."
Back in Kathmandu
When they return to Kathmandu, Lauren Pauls and her family will help bring in more teams to build shelters for the displaced within the capital, as well as those in the outer villages who may begin filtering their way to the city looking for help. The clock is ticking.
"The monsoon season is starting really soon, so that is the most important thing to do right now — to get people sturdy enough shelter to get them through monsoon season," she said. "The water there carries so many diseases. … That's when they will be concerned with tent cities coming up without any sanitation, people just going to the bathroom wherever, getting their periods. … That's when cholera and these kinds of things will begin to run rampant."
What YWAM and other organizations would really like to do, Pauls said, is to get more permanent shelters up for people before the rains begin to fall in full force. They are looking for volunteers.
"We've started asking for anyone that has construction experience, structural engineering experience, to come and then we just need manpower. There is just so much to remove before we can get stuff up," she said. "We're not just building temporary shelters — we want to build sustainable things for these people so that the next time there is an earthquake this won't be happening."
Given the dangers of cholera, more aftershocks and months of heavy rain and potential landslides, Pauls said she is concerned, naturally, but the thought of not returning at all has never really crossed her mind.
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"It's our home; we've got to go back."
How to Help
Those interested in contributing to the Youth With a Mission Nepal relief efforts can go to http://www.ywam.org/blog/2015/05/04/reaching-nepalis-with-relief/ for more information or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about joining one of the volunteer teams clearing rubble and building houses.
Donations can also be made through a number of humanitarian organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and the American Red Cross. USAID has compiled a list of such organizations at http://www.usaid.gov/nepal-earthquake.