The airport swelled with chaos as the streets fell eerily quiet. Seemingly overnight, Kathmandu, a city of 2 million, shrunk to a quarter of its size as residents fled. Aid workers spilled off planes and clamored around luggage carousels, while in the city locals huddled, afraid to re-enter their homes. “There was this palpable fear wherever you went,” says emergency medical technician Dave Mansfield. “It was more than anywhere else I’ve been—in the Philippines or even Haiti—there was just this dread hanging over them.”
Las Vegans Mansfield and Erika Jensen of RescueNet, a volunteer emergency-aid organization, deployed to Nepal days after the April 25 earthquake, a 7.8-magnitude tremor that killed 8,000. They were among thousands of aid workers to descend upon the crumbling landscape, touching down in the capital city before trekking to rural mountain towns accessible only by helicopter, four-wheel-drive or days-long hikes.
RescueNet’s team of 17 treated 183 injured people during its tour, patching wounds, flagging life-threatening conditions and offering emotional support. Jensen recalls a mute and deaf woman who greeted her in a mountain town: “She was describing with her hands everything, the earth shaking and things falling and the fear. Just to see her mime it all out, and then coming up to us and saying, ‘namaste, namaste, hello, welcome, thank you so much for being here.’ She pretty much stuck by us the whole time we were up there.”
By the end of their trip, people reopened their shops and moved back into their homes, started up their cars and gathered in public places. Days after they returned home, a second 7-plus-magnitude quake occurred May 12, the day the Weekly spoke to Jensen and Mansfield.
“That brought joy to our heart as we were leaving,” Jensen says. “Just seeing [that] they’re moving on and it’s going to be okay. And so to wake up this morning and find out it happened again ... I don’t even know.”