Missing in Nepal quake

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Retired St. Albert couple Bruce and Kathy Macmillan last in Langtang Valley, site of massive avalanche

It was meant to be a dream trip for Bruce and Kathy Macmillan but they are now caught up in a major natural disaster on the other side of the planet.

The magnitude 7.9 earthquake that struck Nepal last Saturday has already left more than 5,000 people dead with countless others injured or missing and out of contact due to the untold destruction to the housing, infrastructure and heritage of the tiny but deeply spiritual, picturesque and heavily populated nation. Numerous powerful aftershocks have added to the damage and the frustration for loved ones to get any news.

The St. Albert couple was just a few days into a trek through the Langtang Valley, a region that reportedly experienced an avalanche where hundreds are now missing.

Now, family and friends here are trying to find them with the help of search and rescue teams on the ground, the Macmillans’ sons Fraser and Jay (who were travelling with them on parts of their extended journey), and social media.

While contact has not been made directly, Bruce’s sister, Louise Bentley, said yesterday that there has been some progress. A late morning report came in that someone had seen Bruce before the earthquake in a particular location along the valley.

“That means that we now have a much more accurate way of where to start asking the search teams where to target,” she said, bolstered by the report. “That’s good news.”

Lucky news too, as the trail is well attended and anyone could easily get lost in a crowd. Remembering one specific person out of the hundreds is a stroke of fortune akin to finding a needle in a haystack, Bentley’s husband, Ted suggested.

Bruce had recently retired from his position as a forester with Weyerhaeuser, while Kathy had retired from her career as a prenatal nurse at the Sturgeon Community Hospital. They left last fall on an extended vacation lasting several months and going through several countries in southeast and central Asia, as well as attending an ashram in India to practice yoga. They had planned on returning in June.

Their sons were set to reunite with them in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, but Bruce and Kathy arrived first so they continued on their trek, with plans to meet up afterward.

Fraser stayed in the city while Jay left for Delhi in India. Bruce’s last communication with family was on April 20.

“Fraser called Bruce and [Bruce] said, ‘We’re on the bus right now.’ That was the best piece of information about trying to track where they were, but now we have a date and a place,” she continued.

“They were in great spirits,” Ted added yesterday morning. “They were supposed to be out today.”

He said that the search from afar has not been an easy one, but has been improved somewhat with both of the Macmillan boys still in the area. Fraser has been in contact with the Canadian military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, as well as with an American military station where he has been welcomed after averting his own peril when the earthquakes came.

“He had a couple of close calls … but he’s fine,” Ted said, continuing that both of the grown children are doing what they can to help co-ordinate people to bring support and search the Langtang for their parents.

He noted that there has been some frustration with the Canadian government and the consulate in the country, a facility that has had to cycle its generators off periods, a schedule that means that communication via the Internet is spotty at best. The American consolate’s Wi-Fi is much better, he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has established an emergency response centre at 1-800-387-3124 or sos@international.gc.ca to register reports of people still missing in the country. Ted said that the advice the family was given was to utilize social media to its full potential in their own search efforts.

“The government could have provided in general to everybody a much more useful or elaborate guidance on how to register on things like PeopleFind on Google, the International Red Cross … there’s a bunch of these places that you can register if you’re looking for somebody. What the government said was to just go on social media without giving any specifics.”

So far, social media has still been the best option available to them, with some “very active” Facebook and Twitter sites. The ‘Find Bruce and Kathy Macmillan’ page on Facebook has nearly 3,000 likes on it already.

And that’s how Bruce and Kathy’s family here has been mostly able to get news and communicate back to the two sons and other search and rescue teams in Nepal.

“Any kind of information is very spotty out of that valley. It’s very close to the epicentre,” Ted said.

For now, family and loved ones have pulled together to get through these trying circumstances, and they’re heartened by all of the support they’ve seen from the community here and in Nepal.

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Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.