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When NIU Professor of Marketing Mark Rosenbaum accepted a Fulbright Scholarship to teach and research in Nepal, he anticipated a life changing experience, but nothing like what has happened since the massive earthquake that struck that nation April 25.
Rosenbaum is in Nepal teaching MBA courses and helping the Kathmandu University School of Management create a doctoral program. He is also working on six research projects, and was completing work on an article regarding some of that research last Saturday afternoon when the violent shaking began.
Grabbing his computer he dashed outside. When the tremors and the deafening noise stopped, and the dust began to settle, Rosenbaum quickly realized that he was among the lucky ones. His 1950s era apartment building had sustained significant damage but was still standing.
In many other parts of the city, and in the surrounding countryside, homes and buildings made of ancient brick collapsed into piles of rubble in a matter of moments. As of Tuesday, the death toll of the 7.8 magnitude quake totaled more than 4,600 and government officials said they fear it may ultimately exceed 10,000.
Rosenbaum said he had been warned of the potential of earthquakes in Nepal, so he was not entirely shocked when the tremor began. He was however, alarmed to see his apartment crumbling before his eyes. “It was devastating,” he said.
Once outside, though, his thoughts turned to others. He joined some of his neighbors in dashing back into the building to grab supplies needed to care for a group of infants and their surrogate mothers, who had lived there.
In the days that followed, Rosenbaum walked the neighborhood around his home. Along one street, which had been lined with restaurants, were a series of buildings still standing, but their interiors were completely exposed as the front walls had collapsed into the street. Downed power lines everywhere provided further evidence of the quake’s destruction.
Worse damage was a short walk away. The ancient city of Patan, established in the Third Century, was destroyed. In a matter of seconds the World Heritage Site had been reduced to rubble. In other areas, temples built in the 1300s were flattened. “In many ways, to me, Kathmandu has died,” said Rosenbaum.
Throughout the city, many residents had fled their homes for parks and other open areas to live in tents and make-shift shelters as they sorted out their lives. Rosenbaum himself has relocated to another building within his complex, but is sleeping in his clothes and evacuating his apartment whenever aftershocks strike.
Watching the city slowly recover, has made Rosenbaum truly admire the people of Nepal.
“Despite the lack of electricity, I didn’t see evidence of any store looting. ATM machines remain intact, no one tried to steal money, despite the ability to do so,” he said in a Facebook post Wednesday. “Many ancient ruins are destroyed, however, no one is sifting through the rubble trying to steal Hindu Relics. Stores are busy, but there aren’t any signs of hoarding. Merchants are not price gouging.”
For now, Rosenbaum plans to remain in Nepal until June, when his Fulbright commitment is complete.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for Americans to leave simply because the situation has become uncomfortable,” he told the Daily Herald in an interview via Skype on Tuesday. “As long as I have food, water and electricity, I will stay, and I believe that’s representative of what the Fulbright is about.” Rosenbaum was also interviewed by WGN News, via Skype.
As of Wednesday, when a tanker truck arrived with clean water for his apartment complex and his electricity had been restored, he was optimistic. He has also been able to obtain food. “I don’t need variety, just food,” he said.
Classes are scheduled to resume at the university on Monday, and Rosenbaum is eager to reunite with his students to confirm that all of them survived.
Anxious hours for NIU students from Nepal
The 14 Nepalese students enrolled in graduate programs at NIU have leaned upon one another for support this week and are now pulling together to organize relief for their homeland.
Fortunately, the students report, their families survived, but there were some anxious hours waiting to get that news.
Kushal Paudel, who will graduate with a master’s degree in accountancy on May 8, grew up in Kathmandu. He heard about the earthquake at about 2 a.m. Saturday, and began frantically trying to reach his family. “The first three hours were the hardest for me because I couldn’t get a hold of them. I finally reached them about 5 a.m.,” he said, adding that while they all survived they are now living in the streets.
Nipin Shrestha, who is pursuing a master’s degree in biological sciences at NIU, had a similar experience trying to learn his family’s fate. It took six hours to track them down, and in the meantime he had a harrowing phone call with a friend in Nepal. “The way she described the situation shook the ground beneath my feet,” he says. “She said everything was falling and that there had been nowhere to run. The earthquake hit again while I was talking to her.”
The Nepalese students took comfort in knowing that their families were safe, but they were deeply saddened by the images of devastation in their homeland, which flowed in via the Internet, social media and television. “It was shocking and saddening. I just couldn’t believe that the places I used to hang out had crumbled to the ground,” said Paudel. “It’s really sad to see all of the historic buildings that have been destroyed.”
Despite being half-a-world away, the students are determined to help. They have created a CrowdRise website to collect donations that will be funneled to Rotaract Nepal, which is affiliated with Rotary International.
“Most of the relief efforts have focused on the capital, but there are so many surrounding areas that need help. Rotaract Nepal will direct aid to those areas,” says Paudel who is urging members of the NIU community to donate whatever they can. “One dollar back home can buy a whole meal for one person, so every penny counts.”
On Monday, the NIU International Student & Faculty Office reached out to Nepalese students, offering support and encouragement. The NIU Counseling and Student Development Center also offered assistance, including extra time to complete course requirements if needed.
Earthquakes common in the region
The earthquake centered in Lamjung, Nepal last week registered 7.8 on the Richter measurement scale – roughly the equivalent of the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Yet, despite a century of scientific discovery in between, scientists today are scarcely better prepared to precisely predict even such massive tremblors.
They do now know, that some regions of the globe, including Nepal, lie along fault lines where tectonic plates grind against one another. The plates build up pressure that is periodically released in the form of earthquakes, says NIU Professor of Geology Paul Stoddard, an expert in plate tectonics and geodynamics.
“In this case, the Indian tectonic plate is colliding with the Asian plate,” Stoddard says. The pressure exerted by those two plates is what has pushed the massive Himalayan Mountains (including Mt. Everest) to such great heights. It is also responsible for the large amount of seismic activity in the region. “This quake, while larger than most, was part of that activity.”
Because of that history, the U.S. State Department takes the precaution of issuing earthquake survival kits to U.S. residents who reside in the area for any length of time, like Rosenbaum, who received his kit in January. However, earthquake prediction is still an inexact science.
One method scientists employ in their efforts is to examine the history of earth quakes in an area, and come up with an estimated frequency in order to tell when an area may be due for an earthquake.
“We know volcanoes will erupt, and the Earth will quake, every so often during the year, but we don’t know exactly when or where,” Stoddard says. “The best we can do is look at ‘recurrence intervals,’ or how frequently small earthquakes recur. We can then extrapolate that trend for a region and make broad predictions. For instance, we know that the New Madrid, Mo. area can expect a magnitude 7 or 8 event once every 400 to 600 years. That helps us know what regions need more earthquake-resistant buildings.”
Another method used for earthquake predictions is to look for various pre-cursors that precede some quakes, such as changes in the water level in wells, changes in off gassing, or changes seismic velocity. None of that has proven particularly accurate, though.
Could a major earthquake happen here?
NIU geologists say that a catastrophic event like the one that shook Nepal is very unlikely in this part of the Midwest.
That’s not to say that we don’t get an occasional jolt. In fact, just over a month ago, Lake in the Hills, Illinois, just 35 miles away from NIU’s DeKalb campus experienced a 2.9 magnitude quake.
“We can get some small ones—I’ve felt two here in the last several years—and the occasional moderate one, magnitude 5 or so, but nothing much larger than that,” Stoddard says. “Of course, I don’t know that the earth has ever taken a seismology course, so it may not be aware that we’re not supposed to get major quakes in the upper Midwest.”
That was the case two centuries ago in the 40-mile-wide New Madrid Seismic Zone, which extends 200 miles through southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, western Kentucky and southern Illinois. In the winter of 1811-12, three large earthquakes between 7.5 and 8.0 magnitude and thousands of aftershocks rocked this region, and earthquake-related damage was reported as far as 1,000 miles away.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency says there are many things that can be done to prepare for an earthquake, including holding earthquake drills, assembling emergency supplies, having a battery operated radio and anchoring furniture and large appliances to walls.
“If there is a quake, the biggest danger is of objects falling on you,” Stoddard says. “If you can get outdoors quickly and safely, do so. Otherwise, take shelter under a something like a sturdy table.”
The IEMA recommends three things to do during an earthquake: drop, cover and hold on.
Knowing what to do when a major earthquake occurs can mean the difference between life and death.