Six Folsom-based Intel workers traveling in Nepal saw their world turned upside down in a matter of minutes as Saturday’s magnitude-7.8 earthquake tossed cars and collapsed buildings.
Mike Roten, a technical project analyst at Intel’s Folsom campus, said the group was on a hilltop taking in scenic views when the earthquake struck.
“The shaking didn’t stop, it got more and more intense,” Roten said Wednesday from his home in Fair Oaks. “You could see dust clouds come off where people’s homes collapsed.”
Roten, 46, and his colleagues were volunteering with the Intel Education Service Corps, helping set up computer labs for impoverished schoolchildren. The group was scheduled to return home Sunday, but the earthquake quickly upended their plans.
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The Intel workers escaped unhurt, which Roten called a stroke of fate. More than 5,000 people died from the quake and nearly 11,000 were injured.
“Where we were, we could not have been safer. We were in an open space on top,” he said.
The volunteers returned to their hotel, which sustained minor damage. But over the next several hours, they endured tremble after tremble, as aftershocks plagued the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
The next day, the group headed to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, hoping to catch their scheduled flight to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where they would transfer to San Francisco.
Roten described the scene at the Nepalese airport as chaos.
“Urinals spilled out onto the floor. Trash was everywhere,” said Roten, estimating that nearly 10,000 people packed the terminal in hopes of scoring a seat out of the country.
Foreigners, including Chinese, Indians and Americans, all jockeyed to get out. Roten said the line for Indian passport holders was “literally a mile long.”
Because of the crush of airplanes coming in and out of the country, many planes ended up circling in the air before diverting elsewhere, delaying or canceling many flights, he said.
At midnight, the airport closed and the Intel group was forced to leave. They decamped to one of the schools they had helped, with the headmaster opening his living room for the six volunteers.
On Monday, the Intel group again headed to the airport and waited patiently in the terminal.
“We figured the best thing to do was just wait,” Roten said. “You can pound on the desk, but there’s nothing you can do.”
He said he was most impressed by the demeanor of the Nepalese people.
“Nepalese are very spiritual,” he said. “I saw no anger, no harsh words.”
Close to 9 p.m. Monday, the group boarded an Etihad Airways flight to Abu Dhabi and was able to connect smoothly to San Francisco.
As for the computer labs, Roten said they were safe. “Our work was not done in vain,” he said.
Asked if he’ll return to Nepal, Roten said, “I want to go back. But not tomorrow, not six months from now.”
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.