As he lay trapped for some 82 hours under the rubble of his Kathmandu hotel after Nepal’s devastating earthquake, Rishi Khanal knew what he must do to survive: drink his own urine.
After a painstaking rescue effort, Nepalese and French emergency workers finally pulled the 28-year-old alive late on Tuesday from the wreckage, from where he had been desperately calling relatives on his phone for days.
Dazed and caked in dirt, Khanal was carried out of the wreckage on a stretcher before being taken to hospital where doctors said he was lucky to be alive, suffering a suspected broken leg.
“It seems he survived by sheer willpower,” said Akhilesh Shrestha, a doctor who treated him.
Brother-in-law Purna Ram Bhattarai, 32, described how Khanal was left helpless when his leg was pinned under debris during Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake that has killed more than 5100 people in Nepal.
Khanal had been on the second floor of a seven-storey building on midday Saturday when the earthquake hit. He was trapped next to three bodies.
“He said that the walls just started crumbling, and there was nothing he could do. His leg was stuck and he was trapped,” Bhattarai said.
“He said he was so thirsty that he even drank his own urine, there was nothing else, no option,” Bhattarai said as he waited at Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital for Khanal to return from surgery on his leg.
From beneath the rubble, Khanal had called Bhattarai to plead for help.
But Khanal, who has a wife and a six-month-old baby and lives in Arghakhanchi district, had forgotten the name of the hotel where he had been staying since last Thursday.
“You won’t believe it, but we could reach him on his phone even after two days,” Bhattarai said.
“‘I’m trapped here’ he said, but in panic he forgot the hotel’s name. If he had remembered, maybe we would have found him earlier.”
Bhattarai said the phone later went dead, sparking a desperate search of overwhelmed hospitals and mortuaries in the devastated capital.
“We looked everywhere, we went to all the hospitals,” said Bhattarai. “Checked patients and even the dead. We had lost all hope of finding him.”
“Luck saved him, it’s like he has a second life. Everybody else is dead.”
When the rescuers located the collapsed building Khanal was calling from, the top floors were intact and the teams drilled down to him after he shouted for help and responded to questions in Nepali.
The rescue carried out by a Nepali-French team took five hours.
“He was conscious when he was rescued … he said ‘Oh God, thank you’,” Bhattarai said. “His wife was very relieved when we called her.”
Like thousands of other young men who leave impoverished Nepal for work in the Gulf, Khanal had been scheduled to fly to Dubai on Sunday to start at a KFC outlet.
International rescue teams, some using sniffer dogs, have been racing against the clock to find survivors trapped in the rubble of houses and other buildings.
The government acknowledged it had been overwhelmed by the devastation from the deadliest quake in Nepal in over 80 years.
Around 10,000 people were injured while the United Nations estimates that eight million people have been affected.
Hospital chief administrator Parashu Ram Koirala said that apart from the leg injury, Khanal’s condition was not thought to be serious.
“When they rescued him, he was conscious and he has been fine otherwise. We are operating on him right now,” Koirala said.
“He is very lucky to be alive.”
Death toll rises
The death toll for the devastating earthquake has topped 5100.
Hungry and desperate villagers have rushed towards relief helicopters in remote areas of Nepal, begging to be airlifted to safety.
“The ground keeps shaking, even this morning it did. Every time it feels like we will be swallowed, that we will die now. I want to get out of here!” said Sita Gurung, 24, whose home had been wrecked.
As the Himalayan nation’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said getting help to remote areas was a “major challenge”, aid finally began reaching areas that had to fend for themselves since Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake.
In a televised address late Tuesday, Koirala declared three days of national mourning for the 5057 people known to have perished in Nepal alone.
More than 100 people died in neighbouring countries such as India and China.
Around 10,000 people had been injured while the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected.
Neighbours leading relief efforts
Countries far and wide have joined the relief effort in what is one of Asia’s poorest countries, with neighbouring India playing a leading role.
In Gorkha, one of the worst-hit districts, terrified residents ran with outstretched arms towards an Indian army helicopter to plead for food and water.
An AFP journalist on board saw scores of houses across several villages in the district turned into twisted mounds of wood and corrugated tin roofs.
“We haven’t had any food here since the earthquake,” Gurung said.
Koirala told an emergency all-party meeting the government was sending desperately needed tents, water and food supplies to those in need.
But he said authorities were overwhelmed by appeals for help from remote Himalayan villages.
“Appeals for rescues are coming in from everywhere,” a statement from Koirala’s office quoted him as saying.
“But we have been unable to initiate rescue efforts in many areas at the same time due to lack of equipment and rescue experts.”
The United Nations said it was releasing $US15 million ($19.09 million) from its emergency fund to help relief efforts while the World Food Program said it aimed to get food aid to 1.4 million people over the next three months.
Australia said it was raising its level of aid to $6 million and sending a military plane to bring in relief supplies and evacuate stranded citizens.
But lack of space at the only international airport was hampering efforts to bring in relief by air.
A state of emergency
Nepal has declared a state of emergency after the disaster, its deadliest in more than 80 years.
Families who work in Kathmandu were packing onto buses – some even sitting on the roofs – in an exodus from the city.
Those who remained in the capital were sleeping outdoors in tents in parks and other open spaces. Many had lost their houses, others were too terrified to return home after several powerful aftershocks.
With just plastic sheets to protect them from the elements, many were desperate for aid and information on what to do next.
“We’ve been staying here for three days, living under canvas. We’re counting every bite we eat, every drop we drink,” said 28-year-old housewife Rama Shrestha, who was camping out with her five-year-old son.
Hospitals have been overwhelmed, with morgues overflowing and medics working flat out to cope with an endless stream of victims suffering trauma or multiple fractures.