BEIRUT: When planning their six-day trip to Nepal, Rida Mawla, Nader Chahine, Ramzi Geagea, Dany Labban and Georges Fanis chose to leave Kathmandu Thursday morning.
But the five Lebanese never knew that their decision would save them from what could have been certain death resulting from a magnitude 7.8 earthquake which hit the Nepalese capital Saturday and left more than 2,400 dead.
“Our initial plan was to leave Kathmandu on Thursday,” Mawla told The Daily Star Sunday. “Thank God we stuck to this plan. Everyone [who went] advised us not to spend more than one day [in Kathmandu] and it’s good we took their advice into consideration.”
The five Lebanese arrived in Kathmandu Wednesday morning and left one day later to Pokhara, Nepal’s second city, for hiking.
Mawla, Chahine, Labban, Geagea and Fanis hiked from Pokhara to Sarangot Friday morning and spent the night.
The five felt nothing when the huge earthquake hit Kathmandu, as they were driving from Sarangot back to Pokhara. But they did feel the many aftershocks, the strongest of which happened Sunday early morning and noon.
“At 5 a.m. Sunday it was magnitude 4.5 or 5. We all rushed out of our cabins,” said Mawla, a consultant for a startup technology consulting firm in Beirut. “But at noon we were all sitting outside drinking tea and it was massive, with magnitude 6.9 ... We rushed away from the building right into the fields nearby. The entire [city] was screaming and animals shouting. [It was a] very strange feeling.”
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday it was in contact with its embassy in India in an effort to locate Lebanese nationals who were trapped in Nepal because of the powerful earthquake, adding that all Lebanese there were safe.
The ministry said in a statement that the international airport in Nepal’s capital was still operating, adding that three Lebanese nationals were set to leave in a matter of hours.
The three nationals, according the statement, have been stuck in the airport because of a delay in flights.
Director General of the Department of Emigrants at the Foreign Ministry, Haitham Jomaa, said that no Lebanese national died as a result of the earthquake in Nepal.
He said that his department was in contact with roughly 20 Lebanese in an effort to repatriate them within days.
Still stuck in Pokhara, Mawla and his friends hoped that domestic flights would resume Monday so that they could take a flight to Kathmandu and then back to Beirut. Domestic flights were halted in light of the earthquake.
The other option for the group would be a six-hour drive to the capital through roads which are now no longer functional because of the quake.
Mawla said that no one from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry had contacted them.
Mawla, who described his trip as a “massive adventure,” said that their choice of Nepal for a vacation was random.
“We were thinking between Vietnam and Nepal, we took a decision in two days.”