Trashigang quake survivors share their experiences 

Tshering Palden

It was a warm sunny day in Trashigang on Monday. Like most afternoons, 63-year-old Tashi, sitting by the window in Udzorong, was picking lice from her granddaughter’s head. Lost in search, Tashi did not realise that a massive earthquake had hit her home until the ground beneath her shook with a loud noise.

Seeing her household items falling one after another from the shelves, Tashi grabbed her granddaughter and rushed out of the house. “My house crumbled in front of my eyes,” Tashi said, wiping the tears from her wrinkled eyes. Tashi and her granddaughter narrowly escaped, but she hurt her back and right foot in her rush outdoors. “Everything’s gone,” said Tashi, looking at her collapsed house.

Around the same time in Yangneer on the opposite hill, Gelong Kan- jur and cook Rinzin of Gongthung shedra were chopping meat to prepare thub (porridge) for Thrue bab. Seated near the oven, they were planning the meals for the shedra when the earth

suddenly shook and the roof over them creaked. Realising it was an earthquake, they tried to rush out but were caught by the falling walls of the monastery.

“There were only about a dozen monks in the shedra. We sent some to call for help and others immediately started digging out the two from the rubble, using spade, crowbar and stick,” recalled the head of the monastery, lama Shedra Dorji. Soon, some villagers and civil servants arrived to help. “Rinzin was fully covered by debris and, when rescuers pulled him out of the wreckage, he was bleeding profusely. They were rushed to the Trashigang hospital. Both suffered fractures on their legs.

Pema Choden in Buna, Rangjung, was shifting her bull to another pasture when she saw rocks falling off the cliff on the other side of the river. She looked towards her house and saw a thick cloud of dust ballooning. She had left behind four children in the house. Her first thought was that her house had fallen apart due to the earthquake and that she must go to see her children.

“I thanked god countless times when I saw my children outside as I approached my house,” said Pema Choden. Half her kitchen walls have collapsed but she is not bothered. “I don’t care even if the whole house breaks down as long as I’ve my children safe,” she said.

By evening, hundreds of Trashigang residents poured out onto the streets and playgrounds to stay safe from aftershocks. Panicked and worried, elders were chanting prayers while children cried as more and more people filled the football ground, spreading rumours that another quake was on the way.

“We can’t go home because it’s all cracked,” said Kezang Dawa, a teacher sitting in the school football ground late Monday night with his friends.

According to Lhundrup from Rangshikhar, this is the second major earthquake to hit eastern Bhutan. “The first took place when I was 15 and caused major destruction to Trashigang dzong and killed a few herders in Merak,” said the 63-year-old.

Meanwhile, farmers are already drawing conclusions from the quake. “It’s an indication of some approaching calamities,” said Lhundrup. “We believe it will bring diseases and harvest affected.”

Others like Aum Tashi believe earthquakes to be caused by an evil animal under the earth’s surface. “Our elders told us that there is a huge animal causing naka (earthquake). When the animal moves, it shakes the earth,” said Tashi.

Francis Munda, a non-national labourer, said, “Perhaps there’s too much sin happening on this earth and god wants to teach us a lesson through this (earthquake). Lord Shiva should be appeased with offerings and people should pray and do good deeds.”