Nepal quake survivor from Cowichan feels ‘lucky’

All things considered, the cough Nick Versteeg is still coping with, days after his return from Nepal, is pretty minor.

Known as the Khumbu Cough, it afflicts everyone who visits the Mount Everest Base Camp.

"You get small particles of sand in your lungs," the celebrated Cowichan Bay filmmaker explained on Monday, three days after he got back to Canada on May 1. "Everybody deals with it. The coughing is incredible. I’ve been coughing more or less the last 14 days."

After surviving the magnitude-7.8 earthquake on April 25 that killed more than 7,600 people, Versteeg will take the cough.

"It’s better than being hit by massive rocks," he said.

When the devastating earthquake struck, Versteeg and his trekking companion had just returned to Namche Bazaar – the hub for Everest exploration – from Base Camp, and were waiting to rejoin the Seattlebased dentist that Versteeg had been filming on behalf of Rotary International as the dentist did volunteer work among the Sherpas and their families.

They were staying in a lodge in Namche, which provided food and shelter, with no extravagances, and constructed, like most buildings in the village, out of large stones – not bricks or cinderblocks – and no cement. "You have to envision, it’s not a hotel," Versteeg said.

"It’s very simple; super basic." Versteeg and his friend had just ordered lunch, and managed to convince the Australian fellow whose bedroom was next to Versteeg’s (and who had been up all night with the Khumbu Cough) to join them rather than head to his room for a nap.

Then the earthquake hit. They all ran outside, feeling the ground shake beneath them while the building in front of them swayed left and right and cracks appeared.

"I had never been in a 7.8 earthquake before," Versteeg noted.

After a major aftershock struck about an hour later, and after the Nepalese paramilitary police had arrived to take control of the situation, they returned to the lodge, where the wall they had been sitting beside had fallen inwards, and the Australian man’s bedroom was destroyed.

"Where we had been sitting, the whole ceiling had come down," Versteeg said. "I felt incredibly lucky."

Fortunately, Versteeg was able to recover his equipment, including six weeks of film footage, which was dusty, but not damaged.

Despite what they were going through, the Nepalese people did their best to take care of the many international visitors who were trapped by the quake.

"The people from Namche were fantastic," Versteeg said. "There were hundreds of trekkers from all over the place who didn’t know what to do."

After another night of aftershocks, the police moved everyone from the village to a camp at the top of a nearby mountain. Around that same time, Versteeg and his friend were reunited with the Seattle dentist and his guide. The guide was eventually able to arrange for a helicopter ride to Lukla, where the nearest airport to Namche Bazaar is located. They waited there a couple of days before they could fly to Kathmandu.

The capital and largest city in Nepal, Kathmandu was just 80 kilometres from the earthquake’s epicentre, and sustained significant damage, particularly in older parts of the 3,000-year-old city.

"The situation was pretty grave, but I was surprised by how much was still standing," Versteeg said.

Versteeg and his companions stayed in a hotel that remained intact with some structural damage, and where all the staff had been laid off as tourists fled the country. While they were eating a breakfast of boiled eggs, white bread and tea, a couple came in – Versteeg doesn’t know if they were English or American – expecting the hotel’s usual spread and taken aback by what they considered "camping." That was the only time Versteeg lost his composure.

"I lost it," he admitted. "There were 5,000 people dead. I found it incredibly rude. That was the only negative thing."

It wasn’t easy to leave Kathmandu, and Versteeg spent a day at the airport before he was able to get a flight out. There, he was able to watch the international aid efforts in action.

"There were huge planes coming in – Russian, Chinese, Turkish – and all the unloading was done by hand, which would take a couple of hours," he recalled. "And everything was stocked on the side of the runway. What we felt they need is people with forklifts and trucks."

Eventually, Versteeg flew from Kathmandu to Delhi, beginning his journey home. It was 41 hours before he made it to Vancouver for a "tearful reunion" with his wife, Elly Driessen, and her sister. "That was a minor inconvenience after what we went through," he said.

Versteeg had already planned a showing of his two latest productions, 71 Years (about a Second World War-era military flight that crashed on Vancouver Island and wasn’t discovered until 2013) and One Man’s Dream (about the creation of the Malahat Highway) at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on June 3. That will still go ahead, but now all the profits will go to the Nepalese village of Khumjung, where Versteeg filmed the Seattle dentist in action, and which has been completely destroyed. Versteeg is also planning to put together a short film about his earthquake experience for that event.

"A couple of thousand dollars would go a long way in helping these people out," he said.

Just Posted

Old-growth logging protesters block a road on Monday, June 14. This is not the blockade at Honeymoon Bay referred to in the story. (Facebook photo)
Old-growth logging protesters block RCMP access on road near Honeymoon Bay

Police were on their way to enforcement in Fairy Creek area when they were stopped

Cowichan Citizen and Lake Cowichan Gazette announce new publisher

David van Deventer has been with Black Press Media since 2014

Island Health is bringing a vaccination clinic to Lake Cowichan starting June 23. (Submitted)
COVID vaccine clinic coming to Lake Cowichan as area numbers lag

Clinic will operate at arena starting June 23

The Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society, which has been operating a treatment centre on land leased from the Nanoose First Nation for 35 years (pictured), has begun a fundraising campaign to open a new centre near Duncan. (Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society photo)
New Indigenous treatment centre to be built near Duncan

Centre will help survivors of residential schools

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Saltair man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Most Read