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Fearing Aftershocks, Thousands Stream Out Of Kathmandu


In Nepal today, a moment of joy after days of agony following the deadly earthquake there. Rescue crews pulled a 15-year-old boy from the rubble of a collapsed building in Kathmandu. He survived five days by eating containers of butter. Crowds cheered as he was pulled from debris and taken to the hospital. But not far from there, throngs of people lined up at a makeshift evacuation center to leave Kathmandu. And that's where NPR's Russell Lewis spent the day. As he reports, some people are afraid to stay in the city, while others are frustrated by the slow pace of recovery.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Right next to Kathmandu's famous Pashupati Temple, a line of parked buses snaked along a dirt road by a river. It was impossible to see how many buses were there - a hundred - perhaps a lot more. Next to just one bus were dozens of people. They'd been standing for hours, even as it rained. Mohammad Akbar is a tailor who came to Nepal from India the day before the earthquake hit.

MAYISHA AKBAR: (Through interpreter) I had come here to make money. I often come to Nepal and work in a factory in the Thamel area owned by an Indian national.

LEWIS: He says Nepal's government has not been helpful, and he's frustrated and scared. Now he just wants to return to India.

AKBAR: (Through interpreter) We do not know where to live, and I have nothing to eat. The government is not giving us anything. I am safe back home. Here, the houses are falling, and I don't want to die here. It's better I go back home and get some relief.

LEWIS: The border between the countries is porous. No visa is required, and passports aren't stamped. So the Indian government sent the buses to Nepal to collect those who wanted to leave. The rides are free. Already more than 6,000 people have returned to one province alone. A bit further down the line, a man and his wife were standing quietly. He owns a business in Kathmandu, but says there are cracks in his house. He says he's leaving for his village and plans to return once things are better.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) We are too afraid here. I'll come back only once things are right. I've left everything in my shop. It will take around seven hours for me to reach my home from here.

LEWIS: Many of the people in this line aren't leaving with much. Most aren't carrying a thing. Only a few have backpacks. One person had a dog - another, a rabbit. One of those families not carrying anything were the Guptas - a mom, dad and three children. Fourteen-year-old Khusbu Gupta says she came to Nepal when she was small. Now it's time to leave.

KHUSBU GUPTA: (Through interpreter) We stayed outside for three days. We might return back after one month when things are fine here. My grandfather has been calling me. People back home are really worried. We can still feel the aftershock, and everyone is crying back home.

LEWIS: Nepal's government is also offering bus service for those who want to return to their villages. Meanwhile, the Indian government says it plans to keep buses like these running for the foreseeable future. Russell Lewis, NPR News, Kathmandu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Russell Lewis
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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