Macleay Island property owner and University Professor, Maxine Cooper, has had a stunning story of survival in the first Katmandu earthquake.
The capital of Nepal has been devastated by two major earthquakes two weeks apart, the first a huge 7.8 magnitude, and the second 7.3 magnitude.
So devastating have the quakes been, more than 8000 people have been killed in one of the most remote and difficult to reach areas on earth.
Amazingly, Maxine Cooper was in Katmandu herself, and survived the experience in a building that didn’t collapse like many did right throughout the area and the closest major centre to the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.
“It seems I was indeed fortunate,” Maxine told The Friendly Bay Islander.
We ran into Maxine and husband Ross dining at the Bay Islands Golf Club on Macleay Island, only days after her earthquake survival experience.
“Compared to the poor people of Katmandu who have been devastated, I was very lucky,” she said.
Maxine is an Associate Professor of Teaching Education.
Whilst Maxine and Ross own a home on Macleay and spend some of their time on the islands, the couple originally hail from Ballarat and still live and work between the two places.
“I am associated with the Federation University and I was in Katmandu on a voluntary basis lecturing Nepalese teachers about an alternative to violence program for teachers.
“The program shows teachers how to educate using methods that are not universal in teaching around the world,” Professor Cooper said.
It was near the end of the three-week lecture stint that the earthquake struck.
Maxine said:”It was a terrible feeling. Some workshop participants started screaming. I felt the building shake and then realised that I had to hit the floor as it was not possible to remain standing because the building was shaking so much.
“We were on the fifth and top floor of a building and it was too dangerous to run down the narrow staircase. We all were holding on to either the doorframe or kneeling on the floor until the terrible sideways shaking stopped. I think for a short time all of us did think the building was going to fall down.
“Once the quaking stopped we all ran down the stairs which were by this time covered with running water and met outside in the lane and then joined others in the safety of a field of corn. There were similar shocks for the next two hours,” Maxine said.
So why did the building Maxine was in not collapse like so many others?
“Our building was pretty strong, located in a fairly well off area of Kathmandu not far from the president’s residence. It was generally the older types of buildings that fell down or crumbled.”
Maxine and her group had three days to wait before they could get to the airport (undamaged) to catch their return flight to Australia.
“After things had settled somewhat and we were strong enough to leave the field, we walked for two hours through the streets to make our way back to where we were staying.
“We walked a lot in silence. There was devastation everywhere and a lot of frightened people supporting each other in large groups away from where buildings or electricity wire could fall on them.”
Maxine and her friends got to see much of the devastation over the final days with little water or food.
“We were fortunate and very lucky. Leaving that shocking situation behind was difficult,” she said.
Maxine’s group all left money for short term emergency relief and have contributed in different ways since they returned.
Despite the scare, Maxine Cooper knows she was fortunate and would return to Katmandu one day if the opportunity occurs.
She feels for the Nepalese people and the huge task ahead in restoring and rebuilding the country.