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Conditions Slowly Improve After Nepal Quake


It's been a week since the devastating earthquake hit Nepal. Rescuers still comb through piles of debris to look for survivors. Aid workers are busy trying to get supplies into the country. More than 6,000 people have died. Thousands more are still missing. The airport in Kathmandu was overwhelmed with supplies this week. One runway couldn't accommodate the number of planes that were trying to land. That bottleneck slowed the recovery effort. Some humanitarian groups have decided to avoid airport all together and they're sending supplies over land on truck convoys. We're joined now by NPR's Russell Lewis.

Russell, thanks so much for being with us.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Yeah, it's my pleasure.

SIMON: You've been in Kathmandu for much of the last week. Please give us what amounts to a status update.

LEWIS: Well, it's a lovely day here. I'm outdoors. In fact, you can probably hear the crows and songbirds chirping away. And I should say that every day seems to be better than the one before, unless you're living in a makeshift tent city with no running water or sanitation. I mean on the roads, you see more cars and motorcycles than the day before. More stores are open. And in most areas of Kathmandu, there is power and in areas where there's not, it's coming back. The Internet is working, the phones are working, the roadside vegetable stands are returning. But the city, it does feel emptier.

SIMON: Emptier because so many people have had to leave?

LEWIS: Yeah. I mean tens of thousands of people have left the capital this week. They've returned to their home villages, you know. And it's in these remote, hard-to-get-to places that actually saw some of the worst damage from this earthquake and it's there that things are really, really bad. My colleagues, Kirk Siegler and Julie McCarthy, have visited several of the outlying areas and it's not good at all. Some villages are completely destroyed. You know, and it's difficult to get aid there as well. Landslides have blocked some of these roads and in many of these villages, you know, they were really only accessible by foot, just sort of further complicating the efforts. Schools are actually out for the next month and part of that is because some of the schools were damaged, but they're also being used as camps and centers for relief distribution. But some of these university students are returning to their villages to help with the cleanup.

SIMON: Russell, you've covered a fair amount of disasters for us. Any comparisons you make on the ground there?

LEWIS: Well, I mean this certainly is not, you know, like a disaster like what we would see in the U.S. I mean, as the search-and-rescue here starts to end, you know, the big struggle is really getting aid to the villages. But we're - you know, we're a long ways away from even talking about reconstruction. You know, the monsoon season, it begins next month and, you know, there are tens of thousands of people still living outdoors in tents or under tarps. You know, the locals that we've spoken to say, you know, it likely won't be until next year before they even begin to think about rebuilding. You know, right now the push is for temporary housing. You're seeing tent cities pop up everywhere but you're also seeing people renting apartments and trucks packed high with furniture as people, you know, try to find a place to live.

SIMON: And people with whom you've spoken, how do they feel about the government's relief and recovery effort?

LEWIS: Well, they're certainly frustrated with the government. I mean, people here really don't expect much from their government anyway, you know. But, you know, one thing that we have not seen are large-scale protests here in the capital, of Kathmandu. We have heard that in the villages - in some of the villages - people are seizing relief supplies as they've been trucked in. So, you know, I mean there's frustration, yes, but it really hasn't turned violent. And people are taking things into their own hands. They seem used to this. There are volunteer engineering groups that are inspecting buildings and advising people whether they should be staying inside or not. And there is one bit of normalcy to report and that is that garbage collection is set to resume in Kathmandu tomorrow.

SIMON: NPR's Russell Lewis in Kathmandu, thanks so much.

LEWIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
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