Nepalis hit by twin quakes left to rebuild lives alone

Nepalis hit by twin quakes left to rebuild lives alone

BHAKTAPUR, Nepal - Krishna Prajapati's house in the historic Nepali town of Bhaktapur only just withstood last month's massive earthquake, but a second one this week proved too much for the weakened structure to take.

Just a day after his home collapsed on Tuesday, the 62-year-old was out salvaging bricks from piles of rubble the army had cleared from the streets of the devastated town to begin the grim task of rebuilding.

"We thought it would be okay after the first one hit. We were camping outside just in case, but we had left all our possessions in there," said Prajapati of the home he built for his family 40 years ago.

"We came back to find everything gone." The 7.3-magnitude quake that hit Nepal on Tuesday killed scores of people and dealt a fresh blow to a country still reeling from the devastation wrought by an even larger tremor just weeks earlier.

It brought down dozens of homes in Bhaktapur, a quiet town in the Kathmandu Valley surrounded by golden wheat fields and filled with ancient temples, although casualty numbers were low because most residents had already left their homes fearing further tremors.

Newspaper editor Kunda Dixit said life was just beginning to go back to normal in the valley when the latest quake hit, reviving memories of the first and sending people who had begun returning to their homes back into the open.

"A lot of people are traumatised - the memory of the first one was still strong," he said.

The government has promised 200,000 Nepali rupees (around US$2,000) in compensation for every home destroyed in the quake, but it remains unclear when the money will be made available.

Without it Prajapati, who ekes out a living making clay pots for the creamy buffalo milk yoghurt that Bhaktapur is famous for in Nepal, has no hope of funding construction of a new house for his family.

'We don't know what to do'

In the meantime, many residents are still sleeping outdoors - the lucky ones in sturdy-looking Red Cross tents on the outskirts of the town; others under tarpaulin shelters that look unlikely to withstand the monsoon rains now just weeks away.

Nepalese troops armed with shovels were this week clearing rubble from the streets of Bhaktapur, where the government says 7,000 homes have been destroyed and another 2,000 damaged.

Even though Bhaktapur is just 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the capital Kathmandu, residents said they had received little or no government aid nearly three weeks after the first quake hit.

"We don't know what to do, the government hasn't come at all," said Gyan Budhacharya, a 40-year-old tailor whose family home has huge cracks running through its walls.

"One organisation came and gave us rice, oil, toothpaste, things like that, but we've had nothing from the government - not even food." Nepal's state structures remain weak after a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006, and there has been strong criticism in the media of the government's response to the crisis.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala was abroad when the quake hit and it was three days before he addressed the nation, while parliamentarians have been accused of trying to keep tents meant for quake victims for themselves.

Grassroots groups of volunteers have stepped into the breach, taking much-needed tarpaulins and food supplies to remote areas of the mountainous country that the government has not yet reached.

In Bhaktapur though, the mood was one of resignation rather than anger.

"We got food for about two days after the quake and then nothing," said 55-year-old Tulsi Laxmi Prajapati outside the makeshift shelter she and her relatives are sharing with three other families.

"I'm not angry with the government, I never expected they would do anything for us. We cook what we can find and we share our food between us."

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