A travel writer, who was in the bath in her Khathmandu hotel room when the Nepal earthquake struck, has said she is “lucky to be alive.”
Martha Zenfell, author of many Insight Guides to worldwide destinations, was on a tour around Nepal with the same Tai-Chi group as former Southwark councillor, Veronica Ward, who spoke to the News last week.
After returning home with her husband David Whelan last week, Martha said she has been hit by “the realisation of what we went through and how close we came to being crushed.”
She was just getting out of the bath in her fourth floor hotel room in the heart of Khathmandu when the 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit.
“I tried to stand up, but I stumbled,” she said. “I grabbed a towel and once I found it was too unstable to stand up I crouched down to dry myself.
As she heard the wardrobe crashing into the television in the bedroom next door, Martha said three things went through her mind very rapidly – “I need to get dry, I need to get dressed and I need to get out of this building,” she said.
As she was getting dressed, husband David, who had been evacuated from the lobby, ran back in and up the four flights of stairs to get to their room against all advice not to return to the building.
After he had found Martha, they both ran out of the hotel together and stayed on a nearby grassy area, one of the only spaces in the city not surrounded by buildings.
“My legs were too shaky to stand up so I sat down on the grass and we stayed there for hours,” said Martha.
The couple went to the airport to see if they could get their flight at the scheduled time but Martha said it was “pandemonium” as thousands of people clamoured to escape the devastated city.
“I saw a couple of different fights break out. Tempers were very short,” she said.
“One of the scariest things was when there was another tremor inside the airport and I turned and saw a thousand people running towards me. You have to be alert to the crowd in a situation like that,” she added.
After being told that their scheduled flight would not leave until the next day, Martha and David returned to the hotel to find everyone sleeping in the lobby.
“Then there was another big aftershock and everyone jumped up and ran outside,” she said. With many people choosing to remain outside for the rest of the night, Martha and David bedded down in the entrance hall but had to run outside another two times during the night as further aftershocks hit.
The hotel staff, who stayed on site the whole time, sharing their food with the guests when the hotel had run out, sang traditional folk songs through the night.
Driving back to the airport the day after the first earthquake, Martha saw Nepalese people crowded onto every open space they could find, even seeking safety in the middle of the road.
“One memory that will never leave me is of a Nepalese family with two children and a baby who had pulled their sofa and a couple of chairs in to the middle of the road and were just sitting there,” she said.
After having visited places like the ancient city of Bhaktapur just days before it was largely flattened, Martha said: “I really do feel lucky to be alive. I’m humbled by it – that my experience was so painless compared to what so many people did go through and are going through. If it had happened on any of the previous thirteen days we had been in the country, I think we might not have gotten out,” she said.
With the death toll now higher than 7,500, Martha is appealing to News readers to give now to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. “The Nepalese people are gentle and hardworking and many of them have lost everything. To rebuild from scratch requires enormous help form all of us,” she said.
To donate, visit www.dec.org.uk/appeals/nepal-earthquake-appeal