Dream trip turns into nightmare

By David Tucker

Published 28/04/2015 | 00:00

Fr Tom Dalton.
Fr Tom Dalton.
Mary Moran.
Catherine Jordan.
Ger Colfer.
John Nolan.
Jim Mcgilicuddy.
People gather near a collapsed house after the major earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal.

A trip of a lifetime to the roof of the world turned into a nightmare for a group of Wexford people when they were caught up in the huge earthquake which devastated Nepal at the weekend, killing at least 3,700 people.

The eight experienced hillwalkers had only just arrived in Kathmandu when the 7.9 magnitude quake struck an area between the Nepalese capital and the city of Pokhara.

With aftershocks rippling through the area, all eight are safe, but exhausted and camped out in appalling weather conditions waiting for a flight home.

Those in the Wexford party are Catherine Jordan, from Westgate Design, Riverchapel priest Fr. Tom Dalton, Mary Moran, a nurse from Wexford General Hospital, from Barntown, Joan Etchingham, who works for FAS in Wexford, Jim Mcgilicuddy, who works at the Department of Agriculture, Ger Colfer, who owns Only Natural, in Wexford town, James Morrissey and John Nolan, from Nolan's Stoneworks.

'They are all safe, the main thing now is getting them out,' said Keith Jordan, whose mother Catherine is one of the eight Wexford people in the party.

Since the quake they have been camped out in a hotel garden enduring aftershocks, lashing rain and temperatures as low as -10C.

Keith has managed to get them booked on to a flight to Istanbul on Wednesday, but the problem now is getting to the airport because of a flood of people trying to leave Kathmandu, and when they get there, there are fuel shortages.

'They're sitting tight and waiting to get out, ' he said, 'I received a text from my mother this morning. They are very tired and can't sleep, but at least they have food and water.'

Keith said Fr. Tom was 'holding a lot of Masses. They find that very helpful.. it gives them hope.' He said the group had just left a temple in the old city of Kathmandu when the quake struck, toppling the building in which several people were killed and injured. Had they been there five minutes later, the consequences for the Wexford group would have been 'unthinkable.'

Another of Catherine's sons Darren, said had known nothing of the quake until his mother called him on Saturday, 'she was very shocked, disoriented and frightened'.

'They are anxious to get home. They have had enough,' said Darren, 'but they are equipped for the outdoors'.

There is no direct phone contact with the party, but some messages are getting through and Keith was able to get Turkish Airlines to email their tickets to the hotel in whose garden they were camped out.

'There were more tremors overnight and some this morning. We're just hoping the situation at the airport situation doesn't get any worse.. the Nepalese aithoriities would be anxious to get people with confirmed tickets out, so that they don't drain any resources that are needed elsewhere,' said Keith, 'all I want to hear now is good news, that they have got that flight.'

Keith said the eight were all very experienced hillwakers and for his mother 'the camino was like a walk in the back garden'.

Fr Dalton texted a message from Kathmandu shortly after the tremor to report he, and other members of the group were all unharmed but they had witnessed serious damage in the area.

He told Fr Jim Butler, who is carrying out his duties in the Wexford parish while Fr Dalton was on the walking and trekking holiday in the foothills of the Himalayas: 'All is well.'

Ger Colfer texted his shop staff to say all was well and he was hoping to get home as soon as possible.

Keith said the trip had been months in the planning and had included five nights in Kathmandu, the Everest base camp and a jungle trek.

'Catherine has done the Inca Trail, the Camino and has climbed Kilimanjaro, so it's not new to her,' he said.

He said his uncle Tom Salter, from Cork, and his aunt Mary, Catherine's sister, had also been planning to go on the trip, but had cancelled when Tom broke his arm in a skiing accident.

'Someone was looking down on them,' he said.

While the epicentre of the quake was in Nepal, tremors were felt across the region, with further loss of life in India, Bangladesh, Tibet and on Mount Everest, where 18 climbers were killed when avalanches swept down the mountain.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has put in place an emergency response team in Dublin to handle calls from citizens and concerned relatives.

It said in a statement: 'The Embassy in New Delhi which is accredited to Nepal is liaising with actors on the ground, including EU Member States and other international partners in Nepal. Anyone concerned about friends or family in the region can contact the Department on 014780822.'

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