In the News
St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, Michigan
Quake aftermath: Crisis in Nepal, Chaos in Kathmandu
St. Joe Native Witnesses Earthquake, Pleads for Relief
By JOHN MATUSZAK - HP Staff Writer
St. Joseph native Diann Grimm had just finished a three-week trip to remote villages in Nepal, training teachers and visiting schools she helped build and equip over several years. She was in the capital, Kathmandu, on Saturday when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit, devastating the country, killing more than 5,000 and leaving many thousands injured and homeless. It was the worst quake to hit Nepal in 80 years.
"It's just a catastrophe. It's a huge, tragic catastrophe that happened to the kindest, gentlest people in the world, who didn't deserve this," Grimm said by phone from her San Francisco Bay-area home Thursday. She arrived back in the United States the day before.
Grimm, a 1972 graduate of St. Joseph High School and the daughter of Eleanor Grimm, is pleading for relief funds through her nonprofit organization, Partners in Sustainable Learning, and its partner, Volunteers Initiative Nepal. She was last here in September, and spoke to the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Rotary Club about her efforts to improve lives through education in Nepal. Those efforts have likely taken a serious blow due to the disaster.
"It's just unspeakable," Grimm said of the scenes she witnessed after the earthquake, with families with babies and elderly people sleeping under tarps as monsoon rains fell. For many, their food, cooking pots, bedding, everything they owned, is buried. Those whose homes still stand are afraid to return to the damaged structures.
Grimm has been unable to communicate with the people she has worked with in the Okhaldhunga district, in the foothills of the Himalayas. But from the news coverage she has seen, she is sure that the villages sustained major damage. "I have a feeling they are not in good shape. The houses are built of rocks and mud. The villages in the mountains are just flat, gone."
She said she's afraid of the quake's after-effects, with food running out, water and electricity cut off and sanitation destroyed, raising the risk of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Hospitals are overflowing and are running out of oxygen and medicine, Grimm said. Roads, difficult to travel in the best of times, are clogged with refugees. It is the end of the dry season and the fields are barren of the potatoes, rice and lentils the people rely on, Grimm said. Stored food is covered by debris.
Grimm was seated at an outdoor cafe in Kathmandu on Saturday when the first shock wave hit. "I live in California, and I've been through earthquakes," she said. "This was terrifying. It felt like it went on forever."
Suddenly the streets were "a horrible, mad scramble," with people digging with their hands through the debris looking for survivors, she said. A five-story building next to her hotel was reduced to a pile of rubble. Grimm tried unsuccessfully to make it through the crowded streets to the American Embassy, and was taken in at the British consulate. There people huddled in a big open field so nothing could fall on them.
Then came more than 100 aftershocks, one of which measured over 6 points on the Richter scale, Grimm said. Cell phone towers were down, but Grimm met an American with an international phone card who allowed her to contact her husband, Dan Schwab, in California. It was 12:30 a.m. there, and he didn't answer. She had to leave a message that she was safe. She later made it to the office of Volunteers Initiative Nepal. The building had no water, and 60 people were using one toilet.
Grimm is gravely concerned about how Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, will recover. It relies heavily on tourism from people seeking to climb Mount Everest, but avalanches have wiped out many camps. Money is what is most needed now, she said, to buy the necessities of life.
As a teacher, Grimm said she decided she could not be much help during the immediate crisis, and that she was using up valuable resources needed elsewhere. Making the plea for aid back home was a more effective strategy, she said.
Grimm, an educator for 35 years who first visited Nepal in 2008, plans to return in November. "I have to go back. I can't let these people down," she said.
For information about donating, visit www.partnersinsustainablelearning.org.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter @HPMatuszak www.HP.comC