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Utahns rush to aid Nepal earthquake victims

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SALT LAKE CITY — Just 10 days after Surress Boudel said goodbye to loved ones and moved to the United States to attend the University of Utah, he received news nobody far from family can bear to hear.

Boudel’s family was among the many thousands caught in the crosshairs of a violent earthquake northwest of Kathmandu, Nepal on Saturday. His information has been limited in the chaos after the earthquake, but Boudel says at least one of his relatives — a 5-year-old niece — is dead.

"She was back in the home, playing at home, and I lost her,” Boudel said Monday.

That home was destroyed by the earthquake.

"They are not doing well,” he said of his family. "They are living outside the home … without proper food and water.”

Boudel and other members of the Nepalese Association of Utah are busy preparing a candlelight vigil that will double as a fundraiser for victims of the earthquake. The vigil will be held at Washington Square in Salt Lake City on Friday at 7 p.m. The association will use its own financial account to send raised donations to the disaster-torn country.

Boudel said aid cannot come soon enough for thousands of suffering Nepalese and described the devastation he is hearing about from his home country.

“(Earthquake victims) are not getting proper treatment. All the beds in the hospitals, they are filled,” he said. "And they first (have to) get treatment outside the building, even in the roads. So they are having a tough time.”

Shanker Shrestha, another of the Nepalese Association of Utah’s members, said earthquake victims have been living in fear of aftershocks.

"The people are really panicked to go inside their house,” Shrestha said.

Being far away is so hard. … So there's so much curiosity and so (many) scary moments right now.

–Anju Thapaliya, Nepalese Association of Utah

Anju Thapaliya, also from the association, said the Nepalese community in Utah is suffering from a feeling of helplessness.

"Being far away is so hard. … So there’s so much curiosity and so (many) scary moments right now,” Thapaliya said.

Tom and Paula Heath were among several native Utahns vacationing in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck, said their daughter, Melissa Ford.

The Heaths, from Sandy, were in a small shop in hard-hit Durbar Square and told their children the earthquake was strong enough to make it virtually impossible to stand.

Ford said her parents had a difficult time staying in regular contact with their family after the disaster.

"But what we’ve pieced together is pretty terrifying. … Fortunately I got a message that they were safe before I knew about the earthquake," Ford said.

Tom Heath was briefly trapped by other panicked customers inside the shop while the earth shook. Paula Heath was able to get outside.

"The ground was constantly moving, that’s how my mom described it," Ford said.

How you can help ...
Aid groups are rushing to get crucial supplies to survivors of Nepal's devastating earthquake. Click here for a look at humanitarian efforts underway in Nepal and options to donate online.

The Heaths escaped uninjured aside from a few minor scrapes, but slept outside in the rain on the first night after the earthquake because their hotel was determined to be unsafe for entry.

Ford said she was grateful to hear her parents were "one of a few lucky enough" to get a flight from Delhi to New York City, set to arrive Monday evening in the United States. Her parents described the airport as "utter chaos," she said, with 10,000 people scrambling for flights at an airpot with one runway that was partially damaged in the earthquake.

YouthLinc, a Utah-based humanitarian non-profit, will go ahead with its two planned trips to Nepal in June and July unless the country's lack of infrastructure makes it untenable.

Justin Powell, international service director for YouthLinc, said a group of 43 people in each group — including about 30 high school and college-aged volunteers — will be making the trip and refocusing their efforts on disaster relief.

"People who sign up for a trip like this already have such a capacity to love and serve,' Powell said. "It’s been heartwarming … to see how much more on fire they are to help (since the quake)."

YouthLinc was originally planning on a school-building effort elsewhere in the Kathmandu valley, according to Powell.

"Now with what’s happened there we’re determining what to do to be most useful," he said.

Powell has been to Nepal twice before in his travels, although it will be the first trip for YouthLinc as an organization. He said the connections he made there made news of the earthquake "especially poignant."

"I know the kindness of the people there," Powell said.

Contributing: Mike Anderson

* does not assure that the monies deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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