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Reno Graduate Students Recount Nepal Earthquake Experience


At least 42 people have died in the second earthquake to shake Nepal in the past month. A team of seismologists from the University of Nevada, Reno was in the country on a research mission.

UNR doctoral students Ian Pierce and Steve Angster say they were in a field when the earth began to sway with the second quake. They spoke with Capital Public Radio "Insight" Host Beth Ruyak  from their hotel room in Katmandu. 

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below:

Steve: We heard some commotion of dogs and goats and thought it was a scuffle or something.  But soon after we noticed that commotion we started to feel shaking.

Ian: So we pulled our cameras out. It was difficult to stand for the first 10 or 20 seconds. And we were getting shaken back and forth pretty violently but we were able to stay on our feet. And we kind of just looked around and we noticed the chimney we were 100 yards away from started to have bricks fly off of it. And it didn’t come down all the way but we were really fortunate we weren’t a minute or two ahead of where we were.

Steve: Also, on the horizon we were seeing a bunch of dust plumes come up from structures failing.

Ian: Yeah, and the waves continued for three or four or five minutes of these waves coming back and forth. And it felt like we were on a boat in the ocean being swayed back and forth and back and forth.

Steve: There’s a psychological effect too. We’d stop afterwards as a group and say “oh, is that an earthquake” and “no, that wasn’t nothing.” And then you’d feel something sometimes.

Beth: Will you tell me what you’re seeing, what the aftermath experience is?

Ian: The expectation going into this earthquake when we first heard about it is that the city would be flattened and it really isn’t. We’ve heard reports from the north and seen pictures where there’s been whole villages flattened and destroyed and I think that’s really where the majority of the tragedy in this earthquake is. They’ve lost everything. It’s hard to get aid in there because the roads have been destroyed by landslides. Here it seems like from what we’ve heard from people we’ve talked to who are concerned about Katmandu is that they’re really most concerned about the World Heritage Sites because that will really hurt their economy in the coming years.

Beth: I’ve read that one purpose of this trip was to look for ground ruptures. So will you explain why they’re not always there, they’re not easy to find and why you’re trying to find one?

Steve: Ground ruptures are essentially when the fault which produces the earthquake ruptures the ground and actually displaces the surface. The mechanics of this earthquake suggest that Asia is overriding India.

Ian: It’s actually quite interesting because people think that earthquakes always rupture the surface but in California historically they haven’t always. 1906 had a huge rupture. But 1989 in the Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake, both didn’t rupture the surface. And it’s kind of a problematic thing for covering earthquakes because we look for evidence of past earthquakes and how they ruptured the surface. We have these large earthquakes, we know they happened from the historical record but we don’t know they happened from the geology.

Beth: The continuing fear is being written about and shared on social media. Do you have any of those concerns yourself?

Ian: I’ve had a lot of people  ask us “what do we do?” In our hotel people are asking us, “Is it safe to stay in this building?” and we’re not engineers so we don’t really know what’s going to happen. And people want to know when the next earthquake is going to hit. The government here has been telling a lot of people that there won’t be another earthquake so they lost a lot of trust when this earthquake happened. And they had no reason to say there wouldn’t be another earthquake.  And it’s kind of a difficult situation because we don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s probably not safe here but we really don’t know. 

Beth Ruyak's full interview with Pierce and Angster is available here

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