This story by Eric Russell appeared in the May 13, 2015 Portland Press Herald.


Seventeen days after a powerful earthquake killed thousands of people in Nepal, residents of the mountain nation were just starting to breathe easier, Surya Karki said.

The aftershocks had died down. Efforts had shifted to rebuilding.

Then, on Tuesday, another earthquake rocked the Himalayan country. Karki, a native Nepali and College of the Atlantic student, said it felt like the end. A house nearby that was damaged by the first quake crumbled to the ground.

“When it stopped, I just started running to help people,” he said.

Mainers who were in Nepal when the first earthquake hit have continued to put their efforts into raising funds for Nepal, where getting needed supplies to the more remote areas was made even more difficult by Tuesday’s earthquake.

“I’m still in a bit of shock,” said Karki, a third-year student at the small school in Bar Harbor. “Everybody has left their things. They are out in the street, sleeping on the road. Nobody wants to go back home.

“People are scared of vehicles passing by. That’s the state they are in,” Karki said by phone Tuesday from a small village outside Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. “There is a lot of anxiety.”

Tuesday’s magnitude-7.3 quake, centered in the foothills midway between Kathmandu and Mount Everest, killed at least 37 people and injured 1,100 more, adding to the estimated 8,000 who died from the April 25 temblor. And the toll from Tuesday’s quake is likely to grow.

Doug Bruns, a Mainer who was trekking in the Himalayas with his son, Tim, when the first earthquake hit, said he had talked Tuesday with a friend and hiking partner, Rick Nooft, who stayed in Nepal and is helping coordinate relief efforts.

“The most heartbreaking thing he said was that the people had been starting to feel better but now are back to feeling hopeless,” Bruns said. “It’s awful. These people up in the mountains, they are so desperate. Their village gets wiped out but they are still there.”

Karki, 23, has been in Nepal since March. As part of College of the Atlantic’s venture incubator, the Hatchery, he created a nonprofit organization, the Diyalo Foundation, to build schools in underserved communities, and had begun doing that work in his home country.

By April 26, though, Karki’s mission changed.

Like many who were in Nepal on April 25, including others with ties to Maine, Karki looked for a way to help.

Instead of building schools, Karki and a group of volunteers have been building refugee camps. They recently finished a camp in Taudaha, complete with sanitation facilities, a kitchen and dining areas.

The work has been humbling, he said.

“You see people dying and kids trapped and houses falling,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but you hope no one has to experience it.”

Bruns, of Portland, and his son became unexpected relief workers, too.

The Brunses were two days from reaching Mount Everest base camp when the April 25 earthquake hit. Bruns and his wife, Carole, had set up a nonprofit a decade ago to assist students who wanted to volunteer in foreign countries, and they re-established that charity, Images for Change, to help with earthquake relief in Nepal.

As of Tuesday, it had raised more than $35,000.

Galen Murton, a 1996 Portland High School graduate, was in Nepal conducting research for his Ph.D. last month when the first earthquake struck.

His research is now on hold, but Murton, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and some of his friends have created a relief nonprofit, Rasuwa Relief. Through its GoFundMe account, the organization has raised about $24,000 so far.

Last week, Murton told the Portland Press Herald that the hardest part of relief efforts in Nepal has been getting supplies to those who need it. Hikers have been bringing in a limited amount of supplies. Murton’s mother, Pamela Murton, who lives in Portland, said she got a text message from her son Tuesday morning, after the second earthquake hit, to let her know he was safe.

Yasmine Habash was safe, too, but she still hasn’t received news about her mother, Dawn Habash, a 57-year-old yoga instructor from Augusta who was hiking in Nepal on April 25 and hasn’t been seen since.

The daughter traveled to Nepal on May 3, a trip funded by donations, but has not been able to locate her mother and may be forced to abandon her effort.

Karki said finding the remains of the missing will be a work in progress for months. Some of that may be hampered by the looming monsoon season, he said.

“People are thinking about this particular moment and now some people are saying, ‘Monsoon season is coming, let’s prepare for that.’ But what about after that?” he said.

Karki has no immediate plans to leave Nepal. He’ll continue building refugee camps with help from volunteers and from the displaced residents themselves.

He said it was his time at College of the Atlantic that instilled a belief that “anything is possible.” That’s what drives him at the moment.

And he’ll be ready to resume his original mission when the country is stable.

“The idea to construct schools hasn’t gone away,” Karki said. “In fact, it’s more critical now because so many classrooms have been destroyed or damaged.

“Things are going to get better soon and Nepal will stand tall again.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: PPHEricRussell