More than 100 Israeli trekkers remained trapped Tuesday night in remote areas of Nepal, which were hit hard by the massive earthquake that devastated the Himalayan state on Saturday.
“We hope to be able to rescue them tomorrow [Wednesday],” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Over the past two days, 338 Israelis and 25 infants born to surrogate Nepalese mothers have arrived home from Nepal. The bulk of the survivors flew out of Kathmandu on an El Al jumbo jet that landed at Ben-Gurion Airport around noon on Tuesday.
After their departure, Israel turned its focus to rescuing the trapped trekkers and offering humanitarian assistance to the Nepalese, who are struggling to treat more than 9,000 victims. At least 5,000 people have died in the quake and that number is expected to double as rescuers – including Israeli teams – continue to sift through the rubble.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala told Reuters the death toll could reach 10,000, as information on damage from farflung villages and towns has yet to come in.
Israel’s “top priority is to locate and extricate Israelis in distress and to help them return safely to Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he held high-level consultations in his Jerusalem office to assess the situation.
There are also approximately nine Israelis who are unaccounted for, and an additional six whose whereabouts were initially known but with whom contact has since been lost.
Most of the trekkers awaiting rescue are in the areas of Langtang, Mt. Everest, Annapurna, and Pokhara. In many cases they can only be 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, Elsie told The Jerusalem Post hours later.
“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, Elsie 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, Elsie said.
In a message that followed, Shani told her mother: “We found cover and are waiting for rescue.”
Elsie suddenly understood that the group had not understood the magnitude of the disaster they had survived.
“The situation is not good,” Elsie 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, Elsie 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.
Elsie 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. Elsie 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, Elsie 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, Elsie said. The two Israelis, internationals and locals slept together and ate together, Elsie said.
“By Monday I could tell... they were getting scared,” Elsie 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, Elsie 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.
Elsie 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,” Elsie said. “But I will feel a lot better when she is out of Kathmandu.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>