Pitzer College senior Lisa Hirata was sitting in front of her host family’s house in Nepal last April with her host little brother when the ground suddenly began to shake violently.

Her host sister grabbed the two of them and pulled them away from the house as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the tiny village of Simigaun where the family lived, and slammed the whole country, ultimately resulting in more than 7,000 deaths.

Hirata was in Simigaun, a small, rural village on a stepped mountainside in northeast Nepal, as part of her study abroad program. She had been staying with the family for almost a week when the earthquake hit.

An entire side of Hirata’s host-uncle’s house “popped off entirely, almost like an explosion,” Hirata recalled. Dust and dirt filled the air while the lengthy and violent shaking made it difficult to stand.

After the shaking concluded, “Everyone knew where to go,” Hirata said.

Hirata described the aftermath as “chaotic,” with many of the villagers gathering on one of the higher steppes that looked down over the town. Many of the houses were built out of rock and stone, and “they were not exactly earthquake safe,” Hirata said. Many had collapsed.

That day was Periwaar Din (Family Day) as well as the inauguration of a new school that had been built in the village. The school completely collapsed during the earthquake. “I was planning on going over to the school in 10 minutes (when the earthquake hit),” Hirata recalled. “I was just waiting for the goats to finish eating.”

In the mountainside village there were few if any large buildings, no power lines, gas lines or water pipes. The greatest fear did not come from collapsing buildings, but from landslides. After each aftershock, many of them extremely powerful, everyone would look up the mountainside, fearing a landslide would wipe the village off the side of the mountain.

Across the valley they saw a similarly structured village destroyed by a landslide.

“Three days later Hirata and the other students were helicoptered out of Simigaun, as the villagers began the arduous task of rebuilding their homes.”

(Written by Theron Simpson, edited by Terril Y. Jones, Sept. 17, 2015)

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