A doctor who volunteered to treat victims in Nepal has told how he ended up running for his life when he got caught near the epicentre of a second earthquake.
Dr Muhammad Shafiq was treating patients in a remote mountain village when he found himself jumping out of a building seconds before it collapsed.
The GP, who is based at the specialist skin service at the One Life Centre in Middlesbrough, was spending a week in Nepal to provide medical aid following the first earthquake on 25 April 2015.
Dr Shafiq had been treating up to 90 patients a day for injuries, infections and malnutrition as well as handing out tents and rice bags to those who had been left with nothing as part of a team of five doctors who flew out to work a local charity called Lion Club. They were supported by five local volunteers who acted as their guides.
“When we arrived we realised there was a lot to be done,” said Dr Shafiq who collected £3,000 in donations before he flew out. “People needed medical relief as well as food and shelter.
“After a couple of days we left our hotel base in Kathmandu and went to a remote village called Dhuskun in the Sindhupalchowk district. It took us seven hours to get there and we had to walk half of the journey because the road was damaged from the earthquake.
“We managed to see about 250 patients that day and we were about to leave when the second earthquake hit. It sounded like there was a helicopter flying overhead and then the ground starting shaking.
“We jumped out of the room but we were struggling to stand up because the ground was moving that much. The mountains were swaying.
“We were all running for our lives. We were just running down the hill trying to keep away from the building. It was a very frightening experience.
“We were seeing houses falling down in front of our eyes and the sky was full of dust – that will stick in my mind forever.
“The earthquake measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and lasted about one minute, but it was the longest minute of my life. The room we had been in had fallen down and it was frightening to think that a few seconds earlier we were stood in there.
“We started seeing a lot of injuries then – broken bones, serious cuts and other acute injuries. We were working constantly. We could not use the road so we were walking down the hill and seeing patients on the way with the limited medical resources we were carrying.
“There was no phone service so the people back at base and our families back at home had feared the worst.
“We were advised not to sleep inside because the earth was very unstable so we spent our last two nights sleeping outside – and we had given all of our tents and sleeping bags away!”
It was a very emotional phone call when Dr Shafiq eventually managed to call home to let his wife and four children know he was safe but he says the experience has not put him off doing more medical relief work in the future.
“I feel very pleased that we helped a lot of people,” he said. “The people in Nepal are so poor but nobody complains and everybody is very welcoming. It makes you realise how lucky you are.”
Dr Shafiq, who also completed relief work in Pakistan following an earthquake in 2005 and flooding in 2013, added: “I have a passion for this type of job. I like to help people.”