'HELP!' Stranded foreign trekkers sent out SOS after Nepal earthquake, rescued by Indian military

  • AFP, Gorkha (Nepal)
  • Updated: Apr 30, 2015 10:21 IST

As the helicopter swooped over Nepal's lush Gorkha Valley in search of earthquake survivors, the 10-foot 'HELP!' sign spelled out by a desperate group of foreign trekkers couldn't fail to grab the pilot's attention.

"Thank God you've come!" said 31-year-old Julia Strelcoua after the Indian military helicopter landed in a clearing and then whisked her and fellow trekkers to safety in the adventure sports hub of Pokhara.

Strelcoua was part of a group of around a dozen mainly Slovakian trekkers who were enjoying the stunning views of central Nepal's tranquil Gorkha district when a 7.9-magnitude quake tore through the ground on Saturday.

While they themselves were uninjured, many nearby villages were devastated, with their flimsy brick huts and wooden shacks unable to withstand the impact of the tremors.

"Rocks and rubble tumbled down, it was the most horrifying experience," Strelcoua told AFP after clambering aboard the helicopter on Wednesday afternoon.

"We walked around looking for help and we found villages completely destroyed, dead people laying around.

"The sight of dead animals ... they were just rotting, the smell, I can't even describe," added Strelcoua, after completing a round of hugs and clicking a group photo with Indian soldiers.

Unnerved by the aftershocks and with communications down, the group decided to stay put rather than try to carry on with the planned trek for fear that their path would be blocked by rockfalls or landslides.

"Four days we were just stuck. No signal, no communication," said Strelcoua.

"We didn't know if anybody would find us. What if we were stuck there for weeks or months? It was so scary. I can't begin to tell you how I feel right now," she said.


Foreign trekkers hug after being rescued by Indian Army personel at Machha Khola, in northern-central Gorkha district on April 29, 2015. (AFP Photo)

No ride for locals

Strelcoua and her fellow tourists were just some of the thousands of foreigners to have been caught up in the quake horror, which is known to have killed more than 5,000 people across Nepal.

Many of them have needed the help of helicopters to reach safety, including climbers caught up in an avalanche on Mount Everest and trekkers who were on the popular Annapurna mountain range.

But while the arrival of the helicopters effectively signalled the end of their ordeals, it's a different story for locals.

As they landed in the nearby village of Dumla, the Indian military had to push back residents who were desperately trying to get a ride.

Some villagers expressed exasperation that they were not being allowed safe passage out of the quake zone unlike residents of other villages and foreigners.

Others said they had previously tried to attract the attention of passing helicopters only to see them fly over.

"We have been waving shirts and other things every time these things (helicopters) pass over us," said Mene Bahadur.

It feels like we are forgotten," added the 56-year-old as some of his fellow villagers tried to board the chopper.

The Indian military did take several villagers on board who had been injured, while also delivering emergency supplies.

In the nearby settlement of Uiya, there was deep gratitude towards the Indian military for delivering life-saving relief, but also disappointment that their own military had failed to help.

"We have no food, water here, not even light. Where are our own people? They should come to help us. We have been like this for days and not once has anyone from the government or army come to check on us," said Teliram Sunar, 28.

"Everywhere we hear the government is... doing help work in Kathmandu. Good, but what about us? We are far, so we don't get anything? I want the government to fix my home, feed my child, but nothing is happening."


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