S'porean woman waits 20 hours for news of her sister on Mount Everest

S'porean woman waits 20 hours for news of her sister on Mount Everest
Everest base camp is seen approximately 5,300 meters (17,388 ft) above sea level in Solukhumbu District, Nepal, in this file picture taken May 6, 2014. A major earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015 unleashed an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least eight people and raising fears for other climbers on the world's highest peak, a tourism ministry official said. The avalanche buried part of the base camp for climbers bound for Everest, according to Gyanendra Shrestha at the ministry in Kathmandu

The sound of silence was deafening.

She looked at her mobile phone for the umpteenth time willing it to beep, ring, anything.

Each passing hour marked another notch in her rising anxiety.

For 20 hours she endured, then the long awaited call finally came - her sister, who had been trekking on Mount Everest, was safe.

Her ordeal began as soon as she heard the news of the massive quake in Nepal on Saturday evening. She tried messaging her sister but there was no response.

The 29-year-old woman turned to Twitter to post: "Looking for word of MEZZA group from Singapore climbing Everest."

Her 23-year-old sister and three other Singaporeans were on an expedition to climb Mount Everest.

In her desperation, the elder sister had also tried to reach out on Facebook to friends and family members of the other climbers to ask if they had heard from the team.

But her search for answers did not appear fruitful when The New Paper contacted her at 4.45pm yesterday.

Said the 29-year-old woman: "I texted her a few times but there was no response. I was told that it was normal not to get a connection because the team was descending the mountain."

The woman declined to be named because she did not want to alarm her grandmother, who is not aware of the situation. While uncertain of her younger sibling's safety and whereabouts, one online report from Channel NewsAsia (CNA) suggested that the group was in good hands.

One of the climbers' cousins had sent CNA an e-mail at 2.49pm yesterday, saying: "We just got a text from the team that everyone is safe and are descending to safer altitudes".

But she was not convinced. She tried messaging again and got no response.

Then just before 8pm, the news she was waiting for came - a phone call from the sister of Team MEZZA member Zane Lee.

Mr Lee had called his sister, who later informed the woman of the team's situation.

RESTING

Mr Lee also texted TNP to say all members of the team were safe and that they were resting at Namche Bazaar, a Sherpa village.

The group was at Dingboche on Saturday on their acclimatisation hike to 4,700m. It was while they were returning down to the lodge for lunch that the earthquake happened.

Mr Lee said: "We felt tremors and heard there was an avalanche... We didn't run for cover as we didn't know it was a serious earthquake."

The team felt a couple of aftershocks. They realised later there was no mobile phone network.

They decided to stay put and abandon the two-day climb from Dingboche to Everest base camp.

Yesterday morning, they made the eight-hour journey to Namche Bazaar, located at 3,440m above sea level.

Mr Lee said: "We saw some house destroyed while moving to lower altitudes today. Some had set up tents outside their houses."

With a mobile phone network available at Namche, they called their families yesterday evening. Naturally, they were relieved to hear from the climbers.

Yet, the woman remained cautious even after receiving news of her sister's whereabouts.

She said: "Everything is more calm now but nobody can say they're really at ease. I will truly be relieved when I see my sister at home."

Last night, the Ministry Foreign Affairs said it had contacted the majority of the registered Singaporeans in Nepal.

"Nonetheless, there are some Singaporeans who remain uncontactable, probably due to the disruption of the local communication network, and MFA is doing its best to contact them."

Help from S'pore to arrive today

 Singapore will commit resources to help with disaster relief efforts following the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will deploy a medical team of around 15 personnel. There will also be personnel from the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre.

The Ministry of Defence will be coordinating this deployment with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Part of the plan is to arrange for Singaporeans to leave Nepal via Republic of Singapore Air Force aircraft, scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu today, carrying the Home Team and SAF contingents supporting search and rescue and other disaster relief efforts.

The MFA despatched a Crisis Response Team to Kathmandu yesterday. This team is based at the Kathmandu International Airport to assist Singaporeans.

GURKHAS

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean reaffirmed Singapore's commitment to the relief efforts when he visited the Gurkhas in Singapore yesterday morning.

Mr Teo, who is also Minister for Home Affairs, was briefed on the situation in Nepal, and thanked, on his Facebook page, many generations of Gurkhas for their service to Singapore.

He posted yesterday: "SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force), SPF (Singapore Police Force) and SAF team ready to depart, including some from GC (Gurkha Contingent) to help with search and rescue, victim identification and medical support."

The Singapore Red Cross (SRC) said yesterday it will be disbursing $50,000 worth of relief items and emergency supplies. The Singapore Government has also contributed $100,000 as seed money to support SRC's public appeal for donations.

HOW TO DONATE:

CASH

Singapore Red Cross will be accepting walk-in donations starting today at Red Cross House, 15 Penang Lane, from 9am to 6pm on Mondays to Fridays.

CHEQUE

Please make your cheque payable to 'Singapore Red Cross Society'. Write 'Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund', donor's name, contact number and address at the back, and post it to Red Cross House, 15 Penang Lane, Singapore 236486.

This article was first published on April 27, 2015.
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