The Devastating Aftermath of an Avalanche on Everest


Three years in the past, a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, leaving nearly 9,000 people dead and ravaging the nation’s infrastructure. One of the footnotes to that occasion was the plight of climbers on Mount Everest, the place an avalanche swept away elements of Base Camp—as captured reside in this video—killing 15 individuals, injuring at the very least 70 extra, and leaving others stranded at a few of the increased camps.
In the tumult that followed, it was arduous to get a agency grasp of what had truly unfolded, not to mention extract any classes about what had gone proper or incorrect within the response to the catastrophe. Now that a while has handed, a new case report within the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine appears to be like again at this “wilderness mass casualty incident” to see what we are able to be taught. It’s written by 5 of the surviving docs who have been on the scene within the distant Everest area when the quake hit, led by Alaska-based emergency doctor Ken Zafren, together with 2 of the docs in Kathmandu who finally obtained a few of the casualties.
The very first thing to grasp is strictly what occurred. Despite its identify, Everest Base Camp is principally a small metropolis at 17,600 toes: there have been greater than 1,000 individuals there, with one other 200 individuals increased up on the mountain. The avalanche got here from a ridge between the close by Pumori and Lingtren peaks, greater than 3,000 toes increased. The key’s that base camp wasn’t truly buried underneath tons of snow; as a substitute it was a “hurricane-force wind blast,” generated when the falling ice landed, that flattened a large swath via the center of the camp and hurled individuals to their deaths. In hindsight, the authors observe, sheltering behind the numerous boulders and embankments within the base camp might need prevented lots of the casualties.
Right in the course of that flattened part was the “Everest ER” operated by the Himalayan Rescue Association—which meant that the medical tent and many of the medical provides at base camp have been destroyed within the preliminary blast. That’s one other easy advice that emerges from the report: don’t retailer all of your medical eggs in a single basket.
There was additionally no formal catastrophe plan for the area, and mobile communications all through Nepal have been knocked out, leaving the survivors on-site to improvise a response. This seems to have gone pretty nicely. The fundamental movement was to get essentially the most critically injured from base camp to the city of Pheriche, the place the Himalayan Rescue Association runs a three-bed medical clinic with a workers of 3 docs and 3 assist workers. From there, the following cease was Lukla, the place an airport (with a 007-esque runway that ends at a sheer precipice) connects to Kathmandu. At every stage, sufferers have been triaged to establish who wanted essentially the most pressing care.
Not that getting between these levels was simple. The climate following the earthquake was unhealthy sufficient that air evacuations have been anticipated to be unattainable for a number of days. A few critically injured sufferers set off on mule-back, however the climate happily cleared in a single day and helicopter evacuations began early the following morning.
By midday, 73 sufferers had handed via Pheriche, together with 3 who have been evacuated by air from camps increased up the mountain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that quantity doesn’t tally with the recorded casualty depend at base camp (“about 50 patients”) or Lukla (“an estimated 65 patients”). Efforts have been made at every stage to attract up lists and generate rudimentary medical information: for instance, at Pheriche, every affected person had a big piece of white tape plastered to their outer garment itemizing their identify, age, and suspected accidents. But within the chaos, the lists stored getting misplaced—an issue, clearly, however one which’s simpler to establish in hindsight than to repair in actual time.
Under regular circumstances, getting the evacuees to the massive metropolis of Kathmandu would been a profitable endpoint. But given the country-wide carnage, that wasn’t the case right here. Sadly, the 2 most critically injured sufferers from base camp, who urgently required surgical procedure or blood transfusions, made it to the capital however died there earlier than getting medical therapy. “Although many casualties had minor injuries that could have been treated in Lukla,” the authors observe, “none of them wanted to stay, even after hearing about the difficult situation in hospitals in Kathmandu.”
One considerably delicate level the authors emphasize is their perception, despite criticism at the time, that the evacuation within the Everest area didn’t delay rescue efforts elsewhere in Nepal. For 1 factor, with communications knocked out and the climate making longer flights tough or unattainable, it was arduous to know the place else the helicopters ought to have gone.
In the tip, the largest lesson from the expertise is that this may most likely occur once more sooner or later. The authors cite seismological research suggesting that the area stays an earthquake risk, and different occasions like a airplane crash might generate related mass casualty incidents. So there must be a regional catastrophe plan that spells out a few of the fundamental procedures to observe, together with coaching in catastrophe response for each specialist and non-specialist workers on the varied clinics and hospitals within the area.
And that plan, the docs conclude, wants to incorporate some counseling and debriefing within the aftermath: “Many people, both Nepalis and foreigners, who were in the Khumbu [Everest] region during the earthquake, became victims or rescuers. Some people were both. Most people struggled with the psychological aftermath of the earthquake for months. Some are still struggling almost three years later.”

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(Editor references)

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