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First group of stranded Utahns return home from Nepal

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SALT LAKE CITY — After spending nearly three days stranded in the rubble of Kathmandu, seven travelers returned home to Utah from Nepal Monday.

The seven, who were traveling through India and Nepal with an American tour group when the earthquake struck, are the first Utahns to return home after the quake.

“We think we have had answers to prayers,” said Paula Heath, whose family and LDS ward held fasts and prayers for the safe return of Heath and her husband, Tom. “We should not be home yet.”

The Heaths were among hundreds of American travelers left stranded in the wake of Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake. As of Monday, at least 300 Americans were waiting in U.S. diplomatic facilities. Countless others camped out in Kathmandu’s overburdened airport, “pushing and shoving and acing each other out of line,” Heath said

“It was just a mess.”

The Heaths’ travel group missed its original flight, which was scheduled to leave Sunday but managed to board a Monday flight chartered for U.S. diplomats and injured citizens.

Heath said her group had adequate access to food and water until their departure, but things were beginning to look desperate.

We were very lucky to get out. The circumstances, had we stayed, would have been totally different. We lost our access to our hotel, we lost our access to our bus. We would still be camped out in the airport.

–Kery Oldroyd, Salt Lake City resident

“We were very lucky to get out,” said Kery Oldroyd of Salt Lake City. “The circumstances, had we stayed, would have been totally different. We lost our access to our hotel, we lost our access to our bus. We would still be camped out in the airport.”

The return concludes nearly 72 hours of uncertainty for people in the group, who returned to their hotel after the earthquake to find it destroyed and condemned. Oldroyd and the others spent Saturday night sleeping outdoors on hotel mattresses.

By Sunday night, the travelers’ mattresses had been taken over by refugees, leaving the Oldroyds and Heaths exposed to Nepal’s pouring rain. They were rescued by a local restaurateur, who broke Nepalese law by allowing the travelers to sleep on the floor of his business.

“The Nepalese people were wonderful and they couldn’t have been better to us,” Heath said in gratitude. “Against the law, they took care of us. They let us in and fed us while breaking laws to do so.”

Again and again, the travelers survived potentially perilous situations unharmed, said Sue Oldroyd. More than once, she said, buildings collapsed just after her group had exited or chosen to bypass the stop.

“It was a miracle,” she said of the group’s survival. “There were a lot of miracles.”

Contributing: Sandra Yi


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