Nepalese community in U.S. awakes to disaster

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The phone lines were down in Kathmandu when Ravi Nepal of Washington, D.C. tried to reach his family in Nepal on Saturday morning East Coast time.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal, killing more than 1,800 people, left the Nepalese community in the United States scrambling to learn the fate of relatives.

Ravi Nepal, who was born in Nepal and now works for the World Bank in Washington, was speaking on a panel in New York City this weekend.

He turned to Google Chat and Viber to confirm his uncle, aunt and their two children were safe outside of their house in Kathmandu.

“They’re not going inside the house because they’re scared the quakes will come again and they might be trapped,” Nepal told CNN. “They have minor injuries, but none of them are life-threatening.”

With many phone lines down in Nepal, the Nepalese community in the United States is relying on social media and newer forms of communication to reach family. The community in the United State is tiny: about 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2011-2013.

Nepalese journalist Narayan Shrestha, who is studying for a master’s degree at the University of Baltimore, already knows one elderly relative died in the collapse of an old temple and two others were seriously injured in his hometown of Gorkha, near the epicenter of the earthquake.

“My home is flattened, although my mom and dad are safe,” Shrestha told CNN. “But almost everyone’s home in my village has been flattened in the quake.”

Shrestha and other people from his hometown who live in the United States had organized an informal group of people to support each other in a new country. Now the group is helping each other reach out to family members in Nepal to make sure they’re OK. Next he hopes they will try to raise funds to donate to the relief efforts back home.

“Nepal doesn’t have the resources or experience to tackle such a calamity,” he said.

Dr. Tulsi Maharjan, president of Friends of Nepal-New Jersey, says many friends and family were in houses that collapsed. His mother survived the quake and is in a shelter.

“Right now we are able to connect through email, phone lines are still down, but the Internet seems to be working, so there are a lot of updates through there, also through Facebook chat, said Maharjan, a Branchburg, New Jersey, resident.

But he’s worried about how they will survive.

“They don’t know what they are going to do, they are all staying outside because there are still several aftershocks,” he said. “It started to rain, so people don’t know how they are going to cope with that because it is open fields. People are going to get sick, so they are trying to open up more shelters.”

Bishwo Adhikari of Tucson, Arizona, has been up since 3 a.m. reaching out to relatives to make sure they’re alive. Now that he’s heard they are, he and other members of the Nepalese Society of Arizona are trying to focus on relief efforts.

“We have been talking about making a disaster response and relief group that will be led by NAFA,” said Adhikari, vice president of NAFA. “In the meantime we are trying to identify the urgent need (medical support or any other type of support) in the worst hit areas and we will make response plan accordingly.”

Ravi Nepal is hoping that areas beyond the capital will get assistance. “What happens is that a lot of attention goes to the capital and not other areas,” he said. “I’m hoping people, rescue operators, go out to Gorkha,” near the epicenter of the quake.

That a calamitious earthquake would eventually hit one of the world’s poorest countries was not news, said Nepal, who is already helping to raise relief funds for Nepal.

“We expected the only international airport to go (be destroyed), some 300,000 people to lose their lives. My worst fear was worse,” he said. “It’s one of the most disaster prone areas in the world. There is a high risk of death from earthquakes.”