Abbotsford couple recount deadly Nepal earthquake

Matthew Dawes: 'I looked up to see the old brick pillars next to us collapsing'

Thousands were killed in an earthquake that hit Nepal Saturday.

Thousands were killed in an earthquake that hit Nepal Saturday.

More than two years ago, twin brothers Matthew and Noah Dawes moved from Abbotsford to Kathmandu with their wives Nicole and Cathryn to start a business and help those in need.

The brothers set up Milkmandu, an organic dairy selling pasteurized milk, while the wives volunteered at an orphanage the dairy helps support. When Cathryn and Noah returned to Canada to start a family, Matthew and Nicole remained in Kathmandu. They were there Saturday when a devastating earthquake hit, killing and injuring thousands.

Noah Dawes left Monday for Nepal to take stock of the situation. The twins’ father, Allen Dawes, told The News that he was “an emotional mess” for the four hours before gettting word that Nicole and Matt were OK. Allan Dawes said he is confident in his sons’ ability to stay safe and keep their heads.  “They’re very bright, they don’t take risks. I’m confident they will do the right thing.”


Matthew and Nicole sent The News these two accounts:

Matthew Dawes:

As per my usual Saturdays in Kathmandu, I was selling my businesses dairy products at a local farmers market in the centre of the city.  The market is where hundreds of ex-pats come each week to buy organic products and socialize with friends.  Just before noon the ground started shaking, everyone started screaming and ducked for cover under their booths.  When I imagined being in an earthquake, I thought I would have enough time to get somewhere safe, under a table or to a doorframe.  That is not how it happened. I hardly had time to crouch down before I was tossed on the ground.  I looked up to see the old brick pillars next to us collapsing.  I tried to get to my feet, but kept on being tossed to ground. The pillars collapsed in the opposite direction of me and crashed into other venders.

When the shaking stopped I scrambled for my phone to call Nicole. Saturday is her day off, so she would be at our third floor apartment in the south of the city.  Knowing that she is six and a half months pregnant with our first child and less mobile made my heart sink.  I knelt next to my booth and frantically dialed her number.  No answer- her phone would not even ring. I’ve been a praying man all my life, but this was different. For the first time in my life it felt like my soul was on its knees.  I prayed for her and my unborn son as I dialed her number over and over. The only words that could come out of my mouth were – Father, let them be alive, Father let them be alive. I repeated it again and again as I dialed. Making matters worse our downstairs neighbors are back in the United States for a few months, so there was no one else for me to call – and Nicole would be alone in the building.  Finally after sixteen failed attempts, my phone rang. Nicole was safe and was outside the house with our landlord; an ex British Gorkha army commander – whom I knew would have the situation well under control.

I made my way on foot through the downed power lines and fallen walls to Thamel (the main tourist area of the city), to see if any assistance was needed.  It was a mass exodus of hundreds of panicking backpackers. The roads were somewhat clear, so I decided to run back to my truck and make a dash for the south of town to where we live. I didn’t make it far before the road was impassible. Hundreds of people were on the streets in a panic- getting away from any tall structures that might still collapse on them.  Thankfully because I deliver our products all over the city for my business; I know almost every back road and ally there is.

Slowly I made my way south.  I exchanged my truck for my motorcycle that I had parked at our office knowing I could get around much quicker on it.  I called Nicole again and she was safe and sound- so I headed to the small guest house we own near Patan Durbar square.  A very old and historic area of the city.  From what I could see, it was the old brick buildings and perimeter security walls that were most affected.  Kathmandu is a polycentric city, having grown organically out of 3 smaller cities; Patan, Bhaktipur and Kathmandu – meaning there are ancient structures mixed in everywhere with the newer structures.  No one was hurt at the guest house- even thought 2 of the room’s sustained damage from partial roof collapse.

I knew the oldest part of Patan (Durbar square) would be most affected, so I made my way there next to see if I could help in anyway. I was shocked again so see how much had collapsed. Two of the largest temples were in ruins.   There were people digging through bricks and twisted wood for survivors.  Saturday is the one day that Nepali’s take off from work and often gather to socialize as families at the three Durbar square sites.  Horrified I saw Fathers digging, searching for their children injured people searching for aid. I quickly joined in the effort; not that I skillfully knew what I was doing-  I simply started digging and moving bricks from a pile that was believed to have people under it. Many volunteers came with shovels and home-made tools. It was over an hour before we saw the broken lifeless body of a middle-aged Nepali man. Before he was fully dug out, the military arrived and took over the search. Night was fast approaching so I went home as quickly as I could to ensure we had the proper supplies for the night.

I spent Sunday acquiring the supplies we needed.  Non-perishable food, drinking water, medicines, petrol, solar chargers, gas cylinders for heat and cooking and have spent Sunday and Monday night at our friend’s home conserving and consolidating our supply.  Our friend home is a one storey detached structure in a walled and gated compound.  If we rationed our supplies properly- we could bunker down here for a thirty days without resupplying.

From what I can tell, much of the city did not fare as well. Yesterday morning I ran by Ratna park, now home to what looks like thousands of people in an enormous tent city. Soon to have no water, food and are already without access to clean sanitation. Nepali people on the whole tend to live day to day- most without fridges or places to store food for more than a few days. Kathmandu is a valley that cannot feed itself- and without supply coming in everyday from the south of the country it will quickly be starving.

The business we run here were started to support a local orphanage. Operated by Vision Nations, it houses 83 children and 13 women plus staff. Very fortunately the facility was built only 2 years ago and is 1 storey high. Everyone was safe and unharmed. The orphanage buys its food and supplies a month at a time….and had just purchased what it needed for the month. That said- the doors have been opened to displaced children and families from the neighborhood and will need resupply shortly.  The orphanage is behind large walls and has security guards on site.

Saturday and Sunday really highlighted just how ill-equipped the Nepali government was for an event like this. Despite being worried about this even for the past forty years, there was little to no preparation.

Sadly the Canadian consult was even less prepared. I stopped in to register and see what our government had to say, but was to shocked to arrive to 18 stranded Canadians, who were told they were not allowed to stay on premises and needed to find a hotel on their own.  The Canadian consul is a tiny compound, which functions as little more than a tourist information office. I quickly did a supply scan, and saw 54 liters of water and no visible food or sheltering ability. The Honorary Consul was doing the best he could with what resources he had, but the official policy was that this was not a facility set up for this type of function, and they needed to go elsewhere.  Obviously everyone was scared and angry and many refused to leave.  I made a few phone calls and found a friends restaurant they could all stay in, but ended up driving almost all of them to the British Embassy which was accepting Commonwealth passport holders at the time.  No sooner had I dropped them there, did I receive a call that they had all been kicked out.  I was disappointed that our own government provided no emergency assistance, but was hopeful the Australians would take them if we ended up at their embassy. It turned out that our brothers to the south generously took them all into the American Club compound.  A very large walled facility, safe and sound- In fact if the situation turns worse, that is the first place I will take my family.  Say what you will about the Americans…but they were very well prepared in this emergency and opened their doors to all the Canadians that came.

In the days to come we hope to assist in the search and relieve efforts in any way that we can. If anyone would like to donate to the relief effort, a very reputable operation called mountain child is doing a fantastic job of organizing efforts. .

Nicole Dawes:

The earthquake hit around noon yesterday so violent I couldn’t be upright. I crawled to a doorway in our third floor apartment and held on for dear life as dishes, mirrors, book shelves, plants and our water filter came crashing down around me. The really violent shaking continued for about 30-45 seconds , most of which I spent crying out to Jesus and thinking I was a goner. As soon as it calmed down to the point where I could stand up I ran downstairs and joined my landlord’s family out in the open courtyard area. We love our Nepali landlords and he made sure I had some crackers, some water and a place to sit. Matt said he tried 16 times to call me and no calls were getting through, he of course was panicking until finally one of his calls reached me and we knew the other was ok. Roads had been cracked and blocked with debris so he wasn’t sure how he was going to get home… He slowly made his way in the truck, finding back roads and ways around stuff. Along the way there were people digging through rubble trying to find loved ones and so he stopped to help dig two people out. By the time he got home It was around 4:00. This whole time I sat outside just watching the gate in anticipation to see him, and bracing myself through the ongoing aftershocks. It was the biggest relief I have felt seeing him finally come through the gate. Covered head to toe in red brick dust.


We packed up some essentials and drove the bike over to our friends house Joel and sue. They have a lower level house than ours , so we just felt safer staying the night here instead. They reported that the children’s home was upright and everyone was unhurt. I did not sleep at all, as every hour or so the house would still violently shake and we would jump up and grab our packs but by that time the shaking would stop and we would crawl back into bed. The ground is still unsteady, feels like we are walking on a boat. We are now trying to decide the best plan of action as no one knows what the coming days will entail. We are expecting water, gas and food shortage. Looting and possible mob violence. We are going to be in touch with the Canadian consulate and see what we can do. Airport was closed last we heard, and no grocery stores are open. Matt and I are going to drive around today and see if we can get our hands in some bottled water (we do have some a home, but I’m guessing not enough) and some non perishables. Please pray that we can find the things we need to get us through the next uncertain days.

We are only turning internet on once in a while, to save power at the house.

Please continue to pray, not just for us but for the many that are mourning incredible loss. That things will not turn violent and for continued safety. We have so much to be thankful for , and praise God for keeping us and our friends safe.

For every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities between April 25 and May 25, 2015, in response to the Nepal earthquake, the Government of Canada has promised to match donations contribute one dollar to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund.

A partial list of charities accepting donations can be found here.

Abbotsford News