“We are here for you, don’t worry. We will take everybody with us,” Indian Air Force officers told the hundreds of Indians who gathered around the IL-76 that landed at 2:30pm on the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on Sunday.
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With most flights out of Kathmandu delayed or cancelled, there were thousands of people occupying every inch of the airport. And this was why the IAF aircraft came as a sigh of relief for at least the Indians. However, the evacuation process was not as easy as those relieved faces.
“We are waiting for a list of people from the Indian Embassy here. Once we get the manifest, we will tally the names and evacuate people one by one,” said an officer.
“What is a manifest? What happens to us?” shouted back a woman in the crowd. “Please settle down, have refreshments first. There are paranthas and puris for you,” said officer S K Giri in a calm tone. “Why are you taking so much time to evacuate?” asked the visibly frustrated woman. Some people had been waiting at the airport since 5 am.
Vijay Kalra, a Director with the National Disaster Management Authority of the Indian Government, said there were already 2000 names in the list. As people badgered him with questions regarding their status, he asked them not to worry. “Every one of you will be rescued,” he assured them.
Another officer was heard saying: “You guys are very less in number, so that shouldn’t be an issue. We will take only 1.5 hours to reach New Delhi. For now, please have paranthas and puri.”
Soon someone asked the people to line up, the elderly and women first. “We can only give them ‘our list’ once you guys stand in a proper line,” he said.
One person, overwhelmed by the situation, started weeping. Then the IAF officer talking to the people stepped in: “Sir, I understand your problem. Even I have family in Bihar and there has been an earthquake there too. I know how it feels l. I am one of you only.”
Eventually, around 8:30 pm, people started boarding the flight and an hour later the IL-76 had taken off for New Delhi with around 200 Indians.