Survival stories from the Nepal earthquake

In the aftermath of the largest earthquake in Nepal since 1934, a few amazing tales of survival are emerging. 

Niranjan Shrestha/AP
Survivor Rishi Khanal, 27, is freed by French rescuers from the ruins of a three-story hotel in the Gangabu area of Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Across central Nepal, including in Kathmandu, the capital, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in the open without clean water or sanitation since Saturday’s massive earthquake, one of the worst to hit the South Asian nation in more than 80 years.

In the hours after the earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, thousands of rescue teams from around the world were deployed to assist the Nepalese military in sorting through the rubble to search for survivors.

This can be a difficult task, since it can take many hours to safely dig survivors, often in need of immediate medical attention, out of the ruins. Although the death toll has surpassed 5,000, amid the devastation and tragedy are indications of how resilient life can be.

After spending 80 hours in the wreckage of a building on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Rishi Khanal was pulled out alive by a French search and rescue team. The team found him on Tuesday using specialized gear that detects signs of life – including listening devices and carbon dioxide detectors – where the rubble may be blocking victims from view. Khanal had been trying to get the attention of rescue workers for days. 

It took an additional 10 hours for the team and police to dig him out, according to Pushparam K.C., a spokesman for the Armed Police Force of Nepal. The team chiseled through the concrete that trapped Khanal within the building and pulled him up through a hole before carrying him away on a stretcher. Khanal suffered a broken leg, according to Reuters.

What makes his survival so unusual is that after the first three days, the likelihood of finding survivors decreases significantly.

“I had some hope, but by yesterday I’d given up. My nails went all white and my lips cracked,” Khanal told the Guardian. “I was sure no one was coming for me. I was certain I was going to die.”

Survival is often dependent on air supply, availability of water, and the extent of injuries, according to Garrett Ingoglia, vice president of emergency programs at AmeriCares, which is sending an assessment team with medical supplies to Nepal. 

"It seems he survived by sheer willpower," Akhilesh Shrestha, a doctor who treated Khanal, told Reuters.

To the southeast of Kathmandu in Bhaktapur, a 4-month-old baby was rescued after spending at least 22 hours in a collapsed building, according to Kathmandu Today. The infant, Sonit Awal, was discovered by a Nepalese military team who heard the child crying after inspecting the area and assuming there were no survivors. After an initial examination, Awal was determined to be in stable condition and does not have any internal injuries, CNN reported.

Meanwhile, rescues of a different sort were taking place on Mount Everest.

On the border between Nepal and its northern neighbor China, more than 100 people were attempting to scale Mount Everest, the world’s tallest and deadliest peak, when the earthquake hit. At least 19 people – including four Americans – were killed on Everest when a massive avalanche triggered by an earthquake slammed into hundreds of tents at base camp. At least 61 people were injured, the Washington Post reported. 

The surviving climbers, who were stranded in two different camps both above 21,000 feet, have all been rescued. Small helicopters ferried the climbers down the mountain in groups of four or five. Landing on Everest long enough to pick up a passenger is dangerous even in favorable conditions, and helicopters could not touch down for more than 30 seconds to pick up passengers.

The climbers, who were returned to base camp, are still at risk from aftershocks and many of the original inhabitants of the base camp have departed, leaving limited supplies.

“They’re coming back to a homeless situation,” Jon Kedrowski, a Colorado climber whose group remains at the base of Mount Everest, told KWGN-TV in Denver. “We’re here to offer our support, giving them meals, giving them a place to stay and coordinating efforts to basically start safely moving down the Khumbu.”

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