Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bus of Nepal Earthquake Survivors Plunges Off a Road, Killing 27

KATHMANDU, Nepal — The second time the overloaded bus stalled, passengers stayed put. They had already exited once to push. With the bus stuck on a one-lane mountain dirt road, its occupants stuffed inside and on the roof amid luggage and rice sacks, the driver backed up first to regain uphill momentum.
But something was horribly wrong: The bus kept going in reverse.
The accident that killed 27 and injured 38 on Monday was not just another tragedy for Nepal, a poor Himalayan country where vehicles careening off unpaved roads are not uncommon. For this was no ordinary bus trip. Many of the 70-plus passengers piled into the bus were on a journey of recovery after the devastating 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people and destroyed more than 700,000 homes.
After months of waiting, many were en route to their village, Madan Pudari, 55 miles from Kathmandu, to sign agreements required to release government grant money to help rebuild their wrecked homes — and lives.
Because of widespread confusion, some mistakenly thought only a few days remained before a 45-day window to sign the agreements expired. Others thought, in error, that they were nearing a deadline to receive the money, which will not be released until later.
Now, those who survived face another round of recovery, physical and emotional — and the bureaucratic quandary of having to find or duplicate lost documents needed to gain access to the grants of about $1,900, a lot of money for a Nepalese homeowner.


Family members of passengers of a bus that plummeted from a mountain highway look at a list of survivors airlifted for treatment at a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. Credit Niranjan Shrestha/Associated Press

“We thought we would get the grant today, so we left yesterday, both me and my husband,” Radhika Pariyaar, 43, said through an oxygen mask on Tuesday at the National Trauma Center in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. “But where are our belongings now? Where are our victim identity cards?”
Recounting the accident, Ms. Pariyaar said people panicked as the bus inexplicably started accelerating backward.
“The passengers were screaming: ‘What is happening? Why isn’t the driver hitting the brakes?’” she said, recalling how she somersaulted twice before blacking out as glass shards pierced her head.
Tumbling at least 1,000 feet, the bus, carrying more than twice its 35-passenger limit, ripped into pieces.
It took the police and Nepalese soldiers more than an hour to arrive. They then worked with local volunteers to pull bodies from the wreckage with ropes in the rain. Some said the driver, who survived, was found in a tree.
Sushant Adhikari, the deputy police superintendent in the area, said it was unclear how the driver had lost control and why the brakes had failed.


An injured passenger was treated at a hospital in Kathmandu. Credit Niranjan Shrestha/Associated Press

“Talking to other people, the bus couldn’t climb the inclined road, so it reversed downhill,” he said.
Devnath Gautam, who lives near the accident site and was among the first to call the police for help, said, “There were dead bodies all over the place.”
Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority, an agency established to distribute earthquake aid, offered assurances on Tuesday that survivors would still be able to get the grants.
But the agency is known for giving contradictory and confusing information, much of it conveyed by word of mouth. Some Nepalese mistakenly thought this week was a deadline set by the agency to get their rebuilding money. The real deadline, said Sushil Gyawali, the agency’s chief executive, is Sept. 18.
Mr. Gyawali said survivors would need to get duplicate victim identity cards from their local Village Development Committees.
“Those people who have victim identity cards and sign their agreements, the money will be transferred in the bank,” Mr. Gyawali said.

Photographs of Earthquake Devastation in Nepal

When Nepal was hit with a powerful earthquake the tremor shattered lives, landmarks and the very landscape of the country. The scope of the disaster in photographs.

Under the earthquake compensation system, victims have to shuttle from their home villages to Kathmandu, then back to their villages, to fill out all the paperwork, even if they are not able to reside in the villages until their homes are livable again.
Asked if the agency had needlessly complicated life for villagers who have limited access to transportation, telephones and the internet for information, Mr. Gyawali said he did not think so.
“The process is easy,” he said.
For many on the bus, this was the final push to recover enough money to at least partly rebuild.
After more than a year of living in a shed of donated tin, Ms. Pariyaar said she and her husband, who is also being treated at the National Trauma Center, had been looking forward to obtaining the reconstruction money.
In Kathmandu, they had filled out their application and made photocopies of their earthquake victim identity cards. They had planned to claim the grant the day after the bus ride.
Ms. Pariyaar said she and her husband, along with his brother and his brother’s wife, had been sitting at the back of the bus. Her in-laws did not survive.

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Jay Bahadur Pariyaar, 31, a survivor who had been riding on the roof and is not related to the other Pariyaar couple, said he had read about the deadline for signing the grant agreements in a newspaper. He criticized the government for taking so long.
“They should have given this grant earlier, but we cannot blame the government for this accident,” he said at the trauma center, where he was treated for a head injury.
Mr. Pariyaar said he owned two homes, one of which collapsed; the other was unlivable. He had already taken out a small loan to finance reconstruction, but with a family of eight, he said, the reconstruction money would be a big help.
Recalling how the bus tipped over, Mr. Pariyaar said he had been flung from the roof like a “catapult,” knocking him out.
“When I regained consciousness, I saw people and parts of the bus below me,” he said. “People were screaming and crying.”
Ramesh Bardewa, whose wife, Sita, was killed, broke down in shock as he prepared to identify her body. The couple, with two children, had hoped the grant money would be enough to rebuild their home.
“She was going to get the grant,” he said, “but that same grant killed her.”
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