Darcy Mahady had been volunteering in Kathmandu when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck. After spending days at a music festival that had been converted into a makeshift refugee center, he was extracted by Australian consulate staff. The next few days were a surreal journey through opulent embassies before a military C-17 Globemaster aircraft finally flew him home.
VICE spoke to Darcy about what it's like to be evacuated from a natural disaster while most of the country is dealing with the destruction.
VICE: You were driving to a festival when the earthquake struck. Can you describe that moment?
Darcy Mahady: There were about 20 motorcycle riders around us, and they were all thrown off. There was this huge pull on either side of you—just left and right, left and right. We got out of the car and ran into the middle of the road. Out on the street it was just chaos. People were everywhere.
What happened next?
We knew that it wasn't a good place to be. We decided to get back into the taxi and head up to the mountain. We knew there'd be food and water at the festival, it was supposed to go for days. As we drove, we came through the more rural farming areas of Kathmandu, which is when it became distressing.
These people live in mud-brick houses and they just crumbled. People were sitting on the roads, away from the cracking buildings. We saw someone being dragged from the ruins, barely alive.
But you made it to the festival grounds?
Yeah. When we arrived on the mountainside, we saw that basically everyone was thinking the same thing as us. There were about 700 of us there together. We set up ten different campfires, and that's when we began to hear rumors about the damage—you know, 1,000, 20,000, 50,000 dead. The festival just became this huge community of circulating rumors.
We lived out the days there, waiting to hear from the authorities. We just slept in tents, and it was freezing.
But eventually, this guy called Damien drove up in a Land Cruiser and told us he was from the Australian Embassy. Our parents had been calling DFAT and telling them that there might be some of us up there.
What was it like back at the embassy?
It was an oasis in the chaos. But I felt awful being there. I mean, you'd walk around and there'd be slabs of bottled water. Then you'd go outside and hear of water shortages. There were hundreds of boxes of dehydrated meals—you mix one with water and feed like ten people. We had a tennis court, a pool, even Wi-Fi. It was a sobering experience.
Then there were the news crews everywhere. Channel 7, Channel 10, the ABC—they were all interviewing everyone. We had massive media attention; I mean they'd come into our tents all the time. But there was nothing to see in the tents. It was remarkable how much attention we had.
How did you get back home to Australia?
Well eventually we heard that a C17—a military charter plane—was coming. We were told that if we didn't have a commercial flight out of Nepal, that we should try and get a ride on it.
What was that like?
A bit like a school excursion. We all got on a bus to the airport; I think there was about 60 Australians, alongside some Canadians, British, and Americans. When we got on the plane this military guy gave us all a Kit Kat and a bottle of water. They ran us through the safety procedure. It was kind of ridiculous.
Then when we took off the G-force was just insane—there's like two turbines on either side of this thing and you sit sideways. We were told to hold onto all our small possessions, because water bottles can turn into missiles. Eventually we leveled out, and then we could walk around. A few of us sat around playing cards. Eventually we landed, and from there I bought a flight back to Australia.
Now that you're home, do you have any message for others who haven't experienced Nepal's destruction?
Just that it can't be stressed enough how much they need aid. There's limited food supply and the countryside is the worst hit. That's where the people are dying, but we aren't going to hear about that for weeks. The Nepalese are the loveliest people I've ever known but right now they have nothing.
You can donate to the Nepal relief fund here.