About a dozen Mid-Columbia families with ties to Nepal have struggled in recent days to reach their loved ones after Saturday’s devastating earthquake.
Most have managed to find them, hearing stories of hope such as a grandmother rescued from a collapsed building or the family home spared heavy damage.
But they know it’s impossible to avoid the abundance of grim news and the need for aid. A fundraiser and candlelight memorial is planned April 29 in Richland.
“For every dead person, there are two who are gravely injured and they need attention,” said Piyush Upadhyay, a researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
Ang Dorjee Sherpa, well known in the Tri-Cities and mountaineering circles for summitting Nepal’s Mount Everest 17 times, has yet to hear from his mother.
Ang Dorjee said he knows the homes of two of his sisters were destroyed in the 8.0-magnitude quake that rocked much of the Himalayan nation and left thousands dead. And he also learned that a home he owned in the mountains was leveled though the family renting it managed to escape.
Communication is spotty and internet service has been wiped out. “Whether (my mother) is alive or dead, I don’t know,” Ang Dorjee told the Herald on Monday by phone from the Netherlands, where he now lives with his wife, research scientist Michelle Gregory, and their two kids.
Ang Dorjee, 45, already had plans to be in Nepal at the end of this week to work on a documentary with a film crew. Now he’s just trying to find a flight, any flight, to get home.
“I’m like everyone else, I’m looking for news,” he said.
With Kathmandu’s airport badly damaged in the quake and international aid efforts making it difficult to get other flights in, Ang Dorjee said his weekend flight has been canceled. Now he’s waiting for the first opportunity to get back but he’s not sure when that will be.
“It’s a tough situation right now,” he said.
Upadhyay said his family is among the most fortunate. His relatives are safe and their home in Kathmandu largely intact. His mother was planning to visit him, his wife and their child and her Monday flight, while delayed, managed to take off.
Communications also have improved, so although nearly all phone landlines are broken, there is still some cellphone service.
But there are other losses.
Upadhyay’s wife’s ancestral home close to the earthquake epicenter was hard hit. And a friend lost, not just his home, but a cousin in the destruction.
Some of Manoj Karkee’s family are living in tents and some distant relatives died.
“It’s difficult to find someone who does not know someone who has died,” said Karkee, a Washington State University professor of agricultural engineering based in Prosser.
Upadhyay and others are now focused on getting help to their homeland. They raised about $1,600 among themselves in recent days and are planning fundraisers to get more aid to Nepal.
Ang Dorje, who has guided expeditions in Nepal, as well as Pakistan, Europe and South America, planned to return to Nepal and Everest this spring to work on a film.
He was on Everest in 1996 when eight climbers died in one day, an event later detailed by author Jon Krakauer in the book Into Thin Air.
This trip was to be his first return to the mountain since an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas, last spring while he was at base camp. Three of those Sherpas were from Ang Dorjee’s crew and the incident led him to announce his retirement, a decision he said he’s reconsidering.
“I’m not going to give up yet,” he said. “When you do this your whole life, it’s hard to give up.”
He first summitted Everest in 1992. During his last season climbing the mountain in 2013, he helped 12 people to the top.
The Nepal fundraiser and candlelight memorial is 5-8 p.m. April 29 at Howard Amon Park.
For more information, call 515-441-2144 or visit the Facebook page for Nepal Quake Relief Effort: Southeast Washington and Northeast Oregon.