Quake survivors struggling to salvage belongings

KATHMANDU: More than two months after the April 25 earthquake some house owners and tenants are still struggling to recover their belongings from the debris of collapsed and seriously damaged houses in Kathmandu.

According to data maintained by the Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction Portal, as many as 72,217 houses were fully damaged and 65,694 were partially damaged by the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks in the Kathmandu Valley.

The seriously cracked and tilted buildings, which are on the verge of collapse, still have properties of quake survivors, who are wondering whether they will be able to salvage them.

Purna Rai, 32, of Thankot said he is worried about household belongings — clothes, beds, wooden cupboards, racks, TV sets, furniture, gas cylinders and stoves — that are still inside his tilted and cracked two-storey mud house.

He has constructed a temporary shelter of corrugated zinc sheets in a field close to his damaged house.

“I managed to salvage all my jewellery, cash and relevant documents of my family members on the day of the earthquake,” said Purna’s wife Gita Rai.

“But now I am so scared to enter the house.” The couple said every day one member of the family has to devote full time to keep an eye on the house to save their belongings from being stolen.

The government has deployed teams, including the Nepali Army, Nepal Police and engineers, to demolish seriously-damaged houses and to salvage goods.

The service is free of cost, but most of the house owners have started to hire private contractors to demolish their vulnerable houses and salvage their possessions, saying that they do not know when the government-assigned teams will arrive.

They also worry that by the time the government-assigned teams arrive, their houses could collapse.

Rupesh Maharjan , 35, of Tuchegalli has hired Shree Manakamana Building Finishing Service for Rs 150,000 to demolish his partially collapsed six-storey mud-and-brick house that is more than 100 years old. Currently, he has rented a room in Dallu and bought new sets of gas cylinders, stoves, utensils and furniture.

The contractors first make an arrangement of wooden and iron beams to support the tiled or cracked structures from the ground before salvaging the belongings of their clients for demolition process.

The house owners said some contractors are charging Rs 30,000 extra for putting up wooden and iron beams. Long wooden and bamboo ladders are erected on the walls to bring down the salvaged goods from doors or windows of the damaged buildings.

The owners need to pay around Rs 15,000 more for salvaging the goods, they said. Mohan Bahadur Magar, 44, of Dallu, manager of a company, said salvaging possessions from the seriously cracked and tilted houses is a risky job and therefore only skilled workmen should be employed.