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Rescuers pull ‘miracle’ survivor from quake rubble in Nepal’s capital

20:40 May 7 2015 Nepal


Rescuers pull ‘miracle’ survivor from quake rubble in Nepal’s capital
Description
Surrounded by the rubble of a collapsed guesthouse Thursday morning, a dozen rescue workers crouched outside a small opening between two concrete slabs, trying to reach a teenage boy trapped 10 feet inside.

He had been there for five days since Saturday’s massive earthquake, unharmed but alone and unable to move, until Nepali police finally heard his voice calling for help.

Atop the pile of concrete chunks and tangled cables, Dan Hanfling, a medical team manager from Fairfax County, Va., shouted a stream of questions and comments to the men below, which included Nepali police, Los Angeles County rescue workers and 15 other members of various emergency squads from Fairfax.

“We’ve got the IV set ready right here. What else do you need?” called down Hanfling, one of 130 American rescue workers sent here after the quake as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance
Response Team. Their priority mission is to help trapped survivors.

“Another car jack,” one of his teammates called back. The jack was passed down to help prop up a tunnel to the youth. Then came a miner’s lamp and glow sticks, small blades to cut through metal, and finally medicine to counter the “crushing” effect on limbs with no circulation.

“He hasn’t been crushed, but he’s been lying there for five days without moving,” Hanfling explained.

Long minutes passed. Dozens of news photographers, alerted to the mounting drama, tried to crowd near the opening, but scores of Nepali police officers pushed them back, and Chris Schaff, a Fairfax fire battalion chief, warned them not to set off a landslide.

Suddenly, a local police officer near the opening raised his hand for silence. The chatter in Nepali and English died out, and everyone listened intently. “He wants juice,” Hanfling’s teammate called again. The trapped youth was desperately thirsty and asking for something to drink.

Twenty minutes later, there was a flurry of activity near the opening and someone gestured for a yellow plastic stretcher to be brought.

As camera crews surged forward down the rubble pile, the young man, later identified as Pemba Tamang, was gently drawn from the opening and tied onto the stretcher.

Tamang was wearing a black New York Yankees T-shirt and weeping in anguish and relief. The stretcher was passed up hand to hand, then carried to the street, where an ambulance was waiting and a huge crowd erupted in cheers — celebrating a welcome bit of good fortune as Nepal digs out from a disaster that has claimed more than 5,500 lives.

“It really was a miracle,” Schaff said as he watched another colleague, Ron Saunders, urge his detection dog to climb in and out of the collapsed guesthouse, in case someone else was left alive underneath. Above them, concrete slabs and a sharp metal roof pointed downward, frozen in vertical fall.

The boy told the Associated Press he was working in the building when it began to cave in during the quake.

“I thought I was about to die,” he said.

All he had to eat while trapped was some ghee, or clarified butter, he said.

Hours later, word came of another stunning rescue. Police said a woman was pulled from rubble near Kathmandu’s main bus terminal, according to news reports. She, too, had been trapped since Saturday.

It was the Fairfax team’s first live rescue since arriving in ­Nepal’s capital on Monday, after which they spent two days combing damaged urban areas and inspecting high-rise buildings.

The 200-member task force is one of the nation’s most elite search-and-rescue teams — one of two that USAID taps to respond to disasters overseas. Since its founding in 1986, the task force — which consists of physicians, dog handlers, structural engineers and other specialists — has responded to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the mudslide last year in Washington state.

In Kathmandu, the team ran into repeated difficulties with logistics and communication. Traveling in a caravan Wednesday in vehicles full of rescue equipment, they were stopped several times by quake debris blocking the roads and had to turn back.

One building manager did not want to allow them on his site; word of another possible building collapse turned out to be false.

But on Thursday, the Fairfax visitors were ebullient over Tamang’s rescue, although they played down their role in the operation and deferred to the Nepali police.

“It feels great to be able to assist, to come to a strange culture and collaborate,” Schaff said.

Another member of the team, getting ready for the Wednesday mission, had joked that he told his 11-year-old that he was going to visit “where the yeti lives,” which amused several of his colleagues.

As the rescue ended, two Nepali officers who had worked all morning to dig out the young man were lifted up as heroes by the jubilant crowd waiting outside. One of the officers, D.B. Kinwar, grinned happily amid the cheers.

“We kept telling him he would be fine, and we gave him moral support,” Kinwar said. “He is still alive and healthy.”

The young man’s dramatic rescue was one of the few scenes of joyful relief Thursday in the sodden, shocked capital, where people wandered beside the roads like ghosts or sat silently in plastic tents strung up outside their half-ruined houses.

Stray dogs covered with mud sniffed halfheartedly at piles of rotting garbage and household debris.

In the Balaju bypass area, a warren of rocky lanes just a mile or two from the rescue site, families camping in tents spoke matter-of-factly about how many people had lived or died in each house.

They also recounted far more dire tales from their home villages, saying most of the houses had been destroyed and many people were killed.

“I was taking a bath when the earthquake came. I escaped when the second floor became the first floor, but five other people died and did not get out,” said college student Santu Tamang, 19. She said everyone was worried now about the mud and garbage spreading diseases, including swine flu.

In a ruined house with cracked blue walls, an elderly woman wept disconsolately. Nearby, Arvina Gureng, 11, said that the police and the army had come to search for the living and take away the dead, but that they had been forced to stop because of aftershocks.

“I thought we are all dead, but now I think we are safe,” the girl said solemnly. Then she blurted out something that still troubled her. “Why do earthquakes come?” she asked. “Can we really be safe from them?”
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