Premium Journalist
2 minute read
2 May 2015
12:00 pm

Human spirit helped us survive Nepal distaster – Australian sisters


Two Australians who found refuge at the Gift of the Givers camp after being rescued from the Nepali mountains after last week’s deadly earthquake said the spirit of those around them saved them.

Rescue personnel observe damaged buildings in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, on April 27, 2015, two days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. Nepalis started fleeing their devastated capital on April 27 after an earthquake killed more than 3,800 people and toppled entire streets, as the United Nations prepared a "massive" aid operation. AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH MATHEMA

“In those moments you don’t know it, but the human spirit saves you,” said Tess Arnold.

Tess Arnold and her sister Eliza were part of a group of mountaineers, which included South Africans Kate Ahrends and Mike Sherman.

The group were hiking when disaster struck in an earthquake of 7.9 in magnitude.

Tess Arnold explained how she grabbed a fellow hiker and pushed her down a hill to safety before jumping down herself.

“My sister wasn’t with me, and in those few seconds, I thought she was dead,” said Tess.

Sherman found the girls and grabbed them from behind a wall where they were hiding.

“It was as if we were light as a feather; he managed to get us out as if it were nothing,” said Tess.

The group eventually came into contact with other stranded tourists, including two Israelis who had a satellite phone.

The Israelis contacted their people to organise a rescue.

“When the rescue team came, we were so excited. Then they said it’s only for Israelis, and we thought, ‘okay, that’s it, no one’s coming to save us’,” said Tess.

The group were eventually rescued and taken to safety, but witnessing the struggles of rural Nepali has not left the Arnolds.

“It is heartbreaking to see these people trying to help themselves,” said Tess.

“This is not what this country needs.”

“One of the families we met had a boulder drop through their roof, and with no way to move it, they must rebuild their life around it,” she said.

Tess said she knew her family back in Australia were safe, making the Nepali’s struggle that much more heartbreaking.

But despite all the trauma and horror, Tess said there were moments of laughter.

“We were part of a great group. When our spirit was down, someone would whip out their ukelele and start playing.”

The Arnold sisters said they could not believe the welcome they received from disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers.

The sisters, Sherman and Ahrends, arrived at the organisation’s camp in Kathmandu on Friday night.

“We feel so safe here, and to feel that now is so important,” said Tess.

“South Africans can be so proud of this organisation.”

The sisters, along with Sherman and Ahrends, decided they would remain at the camp to try and remotely assist Gift of the Givers in finding survivors and treating the wounded.