University of Maryland freshman Rasika Singh grew up in Gaithersburg, but much of her family resides elsewhere: Nepal.
Singh, the daughter of Nepalese immigrants, first found out about Saturday’s earthquake in the early morning that day, from a family friend’s Facebook posting from Nepal.
Singh tried calling on Viber but could not get through.
“At first I was pretty shocked. I didn’t expect it to be such a high magnitude because she was on the internet,” Singh said.
But when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu, it started a series of aftershocks and spread destruction of landmarks and homes throughout the country. The death toll is now greater than 5,000 with at least another 10,000 injured, according to published reports.
Although Singh did not reach her family members abroad the first time she called, her parents reached them shortly after and since then she has been able to contact them through Facebook. Singh said everyone is alive and well, but her family members have been living in the street to avoid buildings that might fall during the aftershocks, which still have not stopped.
Now that she knows everyone is all right, Singh has turned her attention to fundraising. She took part in a candlelight vigil on campus Tuesday night and encouraged everyone to donate money rather than care packages or other objects.
“What Nepal really needs is money because in such a chaotic time, having all these things sent to the one international airport which is in Kathmandu, there’s too much havoc for those (care packages) to be properly sent out…especially considering many of the villages that need them most are just a wreckage of houses,” she said.
Singh’s efforts are being echoed by others in the county with relatives in Nepal. Rockville resident Namita Acharya, webmaster for the Montgomery County Council, immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 but said most of her family is still in Nepal. When her husband got an early call at 5:30 the morning of the earthquake, she said she turned on the news and started panicking.
Acharya has since found her family members survived through social media but worries about her 84-year-old grandmother, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and needs oxygen to survive.
“All these medical supplies are in shortage now because a lot of people are needing it…just to get enough oxygen to her has been a problem,” Acharya said.
Acharya said the power lines are out and doctors must come to the streets to take care of people because the hospitals are full and so many people are sleeping outside.
“My immediate family members are out of harm’s way but I can’t say the same for the hundreds of thousands of people camping out in open areas in tents, waiting for clean water, food, medical help,” she said.
To encourage people to donate, Acharya and others in her neighborhood plan to set up tables in Rockville Town Square Thursday and Friday evening. She said people can come by and donate directly to them and they will pass it on to organizations like Red Cross and UNICEF. They will also have flyers available with lists of recommended organizations and guides for online donations.
With the continuing aftershocks and lack of supplies, Acharya said even the number of rescue missions already in operation is not enough.
“Still it’s really massive that no matter how much you try to help and get the people out, there’s still a lot of people trapped under the rubble,” she said.
Acharya last visited Nepal in December and plans to visit again in July, when she will bring some donations directly to the people on the ground.
She said although people know Nepal is prone to earthquakes because it sits on the border of two tectonic plates, Saturday’s quake was the largest in nearly a century.
“This was one of the biggest ones…so when I was back there, there were always smaller earthquakes, but never this big,” Acharya said.
In addition to the casualties, the earthquake and its aftershocks have destroyed many temples and landmarks in the country, which Singh said must make it even harder for those who want to pray to cope with the disaster.
“I haven’t gotten names of exact temples that have been ruined but knowing how important religion is to that country and the citizens of that country, it’s just very hard to watch,” she said. “I can imagine that many people would like to turn to prayer and god but that’s a bit difficult right now.”
Although Singh was born in the U.S., she said Nepal is central to her identity and she visits it often. The dearth of native Nepalese people in Gaithersburg motivated her to learn about her culture.
Even if people cannot donate to the cause, Singh said they should at least stay up to date with the news of the earthquake and be aware.
“I just want to make sure that people help and if they can’t help, they know what’s going on,” she said.