Carlos Sánchez Ocaña, 26, called his mother from a place outside Kathmandu to tell her that there had just been an earthquake but that he was safe. Then the line went dead, and the only thing the mother could remember hearing was the word “earthquake.”
His family tried desperately to call him back. Someone answered the phone but spoke in a language they didn’t understand.
Desperate, Carlos’s brothers began a Facebook page to connect with other Spanish families who had loved ones missing in Nepal and try to share any bits of information among themselves.
“My brother was found about a day and a half later, and he is now back in Spain safe and sound,” says Francisco Javier Sánchez Ocaña. “Since then, others have been found and we are going to continue this project to keep providing help. We are all brothers looking for brothers or fathers looking for sons and daughters.”
Six Spaniards are still missing in Nepal, according to the Foreign Ministry.
When a magnitude 7.8-earthquake flattened most of Nepal on April 25, there were 449 Spaniards in the country at the time the disaster struck. The Foreign Ministry went to work, looking for them one by one. The foreign minister, who was in India at the time, led the evacuation effort.
Initially Madrid said 159 people were missing, but since then that number has dropped to half a dozen.
As the death toll climbs to more than 7,800, six Spanish families are still waiting for news about their loved ones.
While he holds a glimmer of hope and promises to keep on searching, Foreign Minister José García-Margallo admits that the six missing are probably among the dead.
Langtang, a picturesque region that is popular with Western trekkers and where the six Spaniards were last seen, is the area where most of the devastation occurred.
The provincial governor Gautam Rimal told newswire EFE that search and rescue teams are continuing to look for about 200 Nepalese and about 100 foreigners. But he doesn’t have much hope that anyone will be found alive at this point.
On Thursday, the bad weather in the region continued to hamper rescue efforts. Nevertheless, forensic experts have been able to continue their work identifying bodies at the foot of the mountains in Langtang Valley.
A search team is expected to fly over the mountainous terrain later on Friday. Foreign Ministry officials said that, for the moment, there weren’t any immediate plans to bring home a Spanish team made up of members of the Civil Guard, Military Emergency Unit (UME) and forensic police, which was sent to Nepal earlier this week to try to help locate missing Spaniards.
“They say that hope is the last thing you lose, but as each day passes with no word about my sister, our hope is diminishing,” says David Ortiz, whose sister Isabel should have returned to Spain last weekend.
The 31-year-old Cantabria native traveled to Nepal along with her boyfriend, Miguel Ángel Pizarro, a 40-year-old native of Zaragoza.
While he held hope, Foreign Minister García-Margallo admitted that the six are probably dead
“The last time anyone saw them was on April 25 at 7am, when they left the hotel,” Ortiz recalls. “It was also the last time that we spoke on WhatsApp.”
It was the couple’s first trip to Nepal.
The other missing Spaniards have been identified as Egidio García González, 62; Ángel Hernández Muñiz, 57; Jesús Mosteirín, 53 and Sabino Fernández, 54.
They were members of a mountain-trekking team in Asturias and had been with five Nepalese guides when the quake hit.
“It was my brother’s fourth or fifth time in Nepal,” says Manuel Hernández. “He loves that country. He works in administration for a construction company, but his passion was mountain climbing. Every year, he would go on treks across Spain.”
The group from Asturias was scheduled to return on May 2 after spending three days in Kathmandu.
“If I didn’t have to work, I would have gone with them,” says Manuel.
There is some relief if they can find the body and can bury it”
On Thursday, the body of 37-year-old Roser Palau – the only known Spanish victim of the Nepalese earthquake – was returned home to Barcelona. The ongoing chaos at the Kathmandu airport and government bureaucracy had hampered efforts to repatriate Palau’s remains.
Some family members of missing loved ones have already begun preparing themselves mentally for a similar situation.
“There is some relief if they can find the body and you are allowed to bury it,” says one.
But despite their grief, the families have had to put up with nasty comments from unknown people on Facebook and other webpages.
“We have also been attacked. I have read comments in some news stories asking who in their crazy mind would send my sister over there, or why should we rescue her,” says David Ortiz. “This wasn’t based on a poor decision; it was a natural disaster, an earthquake.”