‘We are safe, we are together’: Canadian trekkers caught in brutal Nepal earthquake

Warning: Graphic images

The Canadian government is sending a disaster assessment team to Nepal in wake of Saturday’s devastating earthquake that has claimed more than 2,500 lives.

The team is being sent as the death toll rises rapidly and as a major aftershock hit the region on Sunday. The aftershock struck Nepal and India and triggered more avalanches in the Himalayan mountains. The tremor on Sunday was 6.7 magnitude, less than the 7.8 quake that struck the region on Saturday.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney tweeted Saturday night that the government is deploying a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Nepal immediately in response to the earthquake. DART is a military team designed to deploy on short notice to deal with natural disasters or humanitarian emergencies.

Canada is also contributing $5 million to relief efforts, Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson’s office confirmed late Saturday.

Earlier Saturday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolences about the earthquake and said Canada is prepared to help out in the wake of the disaster.

The federal government also has agreements in place to work with humanitarian groups and is prepared to help Canadians in the region. Nearly 400 have voluntarily registered as being in Nepal, but the real number is probably higher.

Canadians caught up in the earthquake spoke of bricks falling from buildings (some of which collapsed), shaking streets amid the roar of the quake, and fallen power lines strewing cities.

“It lasted more than a few seconds,” said Ottawa resident Harry Binks, who was in Kathmandu as part of a 21-member group planning to climb to the base camp of Mount Everest.

“The only quakes I’ve been in before were over pretty quickly. But this one went on and on and there were several shocks.”

While much of the devastation was based in highly-populated areas, the earthquake also caused an avalanche on Mount Everest and at least 18 people there were killed and many others were injured. Among those at the base camp of the world’s tallest mountain was Quebec climber Gabriel Filippi, who later wrote on his Facebook page of a “powerful earthquake” at the camp.

“Several deaths, wounded and missing,” he wrote. “All Quebecers are safe and sound.”

Omar Havana / Getty Images

Omar Havana / Getty ImagesThe body of one of the victims of the earthquake that hit Nepal Saturday lays underneath debris from one of the collapsed buildings on Sunday.

As the extent of the massive earthquake in the region became clear on Saturday, Harper wrote on Twitter: “Saddened by the news of the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Canada is ready to help respond to this tragedy.”

Later in the day, Harper issued a more lengthy statement.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Laureen and I offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of Nepal and northern India who lost family and friends in this powerful earthquake and its aftershocks,” he said.

“The thoughts and prayers of all Canadians are with the many affected by this disaster and we wish a speedy recovery to all those injured.”

Harper said Canadian officials in the region are working with Nepalese and Indian authorities to ensure that any Canadians affected by the earthquake “are safe and accounted for.”


PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP / Getty ImagesPeople burn the bodies of earthquake victims at a mass cremation in Kathmandu on A Sunday.

“In cooperation with international partners, they are also assessing the needs of the affected populations to determine how Canada may most effectively assist with the disaster if asked to help.”

“We mourn with the people of Nepal and India in the aftermath of this terrible natural disaster and offer our help and our prayers.”

The earthquake hit just before noon and had a preliminary magnitude of 7.8 — rolling through the Kathmandu Valley, including Kathmandu itself, and then expanding in other directions such as the Himalayas and Tibet.

At least four countries were hit by the quake, which killed more than 2,500 people, most in Nepal, according to reports. Many houses and ancient temples collapsed, and the violent earthquake also triggered avalanches on Mount Everest.


PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP / Getty ImagesNepalese rescue personnel help a trapped earthquake survivor as his friend lies dead next to him in Kathmandu on Sunday.

PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP / Getty ImagesRescue personnel work to free the earthquake survivor as his friend lies dead next to him.

Diana Khaddaj, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said Saturday that “our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with those affected by the earthquake in Nepal.”

She said the department is closely monitoring the situation and that the government has financial agreements in place with humanitarian organizations “that allow them to begin immediately drawing on funds to rapidly respond to a crisis.”

“The Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa and Canadian offices abroad are working with local authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens as required.”

Khaddaj said there are 388 Canadians registered with the government as being in Nepal, but that is only an estimate because registration is voluntary.

Friends and relatives in Canada of Canadian citizens in Nepal or the surrounding affected area should contact DFATD’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre by calling or 1 800 387-3124, or by sending an email to .

Friends and family members took to Twitter with desperate pleas for news about loved ones.

A group of Canadian trekkers caught in the earthquake is in Nepal as part of the Dream Mountains Foundation, which raises money for charities and is led by Ottawa restaurant-owner Shawn Dawson.

The group of trekkers, which includes CTV host Leanne Cusak, has been training for months for their objective — a 17,500-foot ascent to Everest Base Camp, part way up Mount Everest.

The group arrived in Nepal Friday night. On Saturday, said Binks, they were strolling through the city’s marketplace “doing some relaxing and pre-trek shopping in case anybody needed to get any last minute items.”

“We split up into several different groups. I was with two other women. We were standing in the middle of the street.”

Then the quake hit.

“It was swaying, the street itself.”

Binks was concerned that he might be hurt by falling debris from nearby buildings — all of which are very old and are “incredibly close together.”

But he was not harmed. He said another member of the team, from Huntsville, Ont. was hurt by a falling brick.

“She’s okay. So there’s no real injuries to our team at all. But we were anxious to get out into the open.”

The problem, he said, is that once people in the group got into the open streets, they found them strewn with power lines, possibly still electrically charged.

“Quite frankly, in the middle of an earthquake, when you’re either told to hide under a table or get between a door jam, I don’t know where the safest place to be is. I really don’t.”

Binks said he and his companions made it back to the modern hotel where the group is staying. Some of the climbers had been in their rooms when the quake hit — swaying the hotel back and forth.

They left their rooms and for a while the hotel asked its guests to remain outside, in the back garden, before being allowed back in.

“We’ve been told that there might be another one tonight, another major quake, but quite frankly we have a feeling they’re just trying to be cautious,” said Binks.

Hours after the quake, Binks was writing regular posts on Facebook to keep friends back home updated about how the group was safe.

“Our prayers are with our Nepali hosts for the safety of their loved ones. In the midst of death and disaster, we are safe, we are together, and we are full of gratitude and love for all of those rooting for us at home.”

He initially wrote that their goal was to still depart later this weekend, en route to Mount Everest, but later added that there would be a team meeting to “discuss options.”

Later, he posted that, “at this point we are a ‘go’.”

“We are truly taking things one step at a time, one event at a time, one moment at a time.”


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