Vigil for Nepalese earthquake victims highlights preparedness need in St. Louis region

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – People in St. Louis were doing what they could Monday night to help earthquake victims in Nepal.

About 50 members of the St. Louis’s Nepalese speaking community prayed over candles spelling the word “Nepal” at The Ritz Park on South Grand Boulevard.

They also collected money for direct aid to victims.

No gift was too small for people here with families there:  the relatives Jagat Acharya has been able to reach were not among the injured; their homes were not severely damaged.  Still they were living the nightmare.

“They’re going through a lot of problems: food, water, clothing, shelter.  Every hour – there are children without food, others coming together for food,” said Jagat Acharya, president of the Bhutanese Association of St. Louis.

Thousands of Bhutanese refugees relocated to Nepal for 20 years, he said.

More than a thousand eventually immigrated to St. Louis.

“There’s so many problems -- total areas where the houses are gone,” he said of the situation in Nepal.

Communications were still a struggle, he said.

At the same time, Metro West firefighters reminded people to be earthquake ready in St. Louis.

They advised people to keep supply kits ready:  batteries, flashlights, a portable radio, a charged cell phone, and enough food and water for three days.

And earthquakes are different than fires and tornados:  do not go to the lowest or most central location of a building.

“Earthquake we don’t want you to go anywhere,” said Mike Thiemann of Metro West.  “We want you to get under the nearest largest object…drop, cover, and hold on.”

He also advised people to secure hot water heaters with quake straps to prevent gas line breaks and save the water in the tank.

“That’s drinking water, if you have 3 days where you may be without water, that hot water heater may be a great source,” Thiemann said.

Keep a non-sparking gas line wrench to turn off gas at the meter if you smell leaks and leave rescues to rescuers if you can;  secondary collapses in damaged buildings can be more dangerous than the quake itself.

“Most people who are killed, are killed by cascading disasters, is what we call them,” Thiemann said.

“We have a higher trained cadre of personnel who are structural class technicians,” said Deputy Chief, Ed Beirne.  “Those people receive the training to actually read signs from the building:  the way bricks crack.  Certain cracks indicate a torsion to the side – pancake collapse or cantilever collapse… and because of how the building falls on itself; what was inside the building which creates void spaces.  Those are actually what we’re searching for, the void spaces.  We’re going for the high probability of where someone would be.”

This is not “chicken little” talk in St. Louis.  We do live in a potential major quake zone near the New Madrid fault.

You can donate to the local Nepal quake victim relief effort at Greater St. Louis Nepali Chautari.