People gather near a helicopter belonging to Nepal Army used to rescue avalanche victims at Thorang-La in Annapurna Region.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“Start packing,” Elfie Sharabi of Haifa messaged her daughter Shani at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old was part of a group of 10 Israeli trekkers who had been trapped in the Langtang area of Nepal since Saturday, when a massive earthquake struck the Himalayan state.
“O.K.” Shani texted back through her satellite phone to let her mother know she understood a helicopter would soon arrive to rescue them.
Four hours later, Shani called her mother to say that eight members of the group were now safely in a Nepalese army base.
To hear Shani’s voice after three anxious days was an “incredible feeling” that made me want to cry, Elfie told The Jerusalem Post
“It is beyond words,” she said.
“From the time my friend called me and told me about the earthquake until the time I got a message from Shani, my body and mind froze.”
The nightmarish situation was made somewhat easier by Shani’s decision to bring a satellite phone with her to Nepal to be in touch with her mother. She was the only one in her larger group of 100 international travelers to have a satellite phone, Elfie said.
Immediately after the quake, Shani messaged her parents to let them know she and everyone in her group had survived and that no one was injured. They were only four hours into their trek and had stopped to have lunch when the ground shook beneath them, Elfie said.
In a message that followed, Shani told her mother: “We found cover and are waiting for rescue.”
Elfie suddenly realized that the group had not understood the magnitude of the disaster they had survived.
“The situation is not good,” Elfie wrote back to Shani. “Kathmandu was hit badly. There is no water and no electricity. The airport is closed.
You need to prepare for being there for a week.”
As her daughter waited for rescue, Elfie was busy acting as a one-woman messaging service. She became the contact person for the Israeli group, updating the families of the other trekkers.
Elfie created a WhatsApp group for them, but didn’t stop there. She also was in contact with many of the families of the internationals in Spain and with local Nepalese in the nearby village. One of them even contacted her. Elfie said her phone number was circulated on Facebook and on the radio.
Although there were media reports of violence between Israeli trekkers and Nepalese citizens, her daughter’s experience was the complete opposite, Elfie said. The group bonded with the nearby villagers as they all worked to survive. The trekkers cleared an open space so the helicopter could land and devised a way to purify water so they could drink, Elfie said. The two Israelis, internationals and locals slept together and ate together, Elfie said.
“By Monday I could tell... they were getting scared,” Elfie said. “There were so many aftershocks. The ground was constantly rumbling underneath them and they were running low on food. It scared them to death.”
One member of the group had insurance from Harel, Elfie said. Even though it was not her insurance company, Harel was in constant contact with her because of Shani’s satellite phone. They phoned her several times a day.
At 4:30 a.m., they were the ones who called to tell her the helicopters were on their way. Shani flew out on one, but left her satellite phone with two Israelis who will be rescued only on Wednesday.
Elfie said her daughter is now in a Nepalese army camp, where she plans to remain until her two friends are saved as well.
“I feel better,” Elfie said. “But I will feel a lot better when she is out of Kathmandu.”