SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — Even in the tranquil setting of her parents’ home, nestled in the woods of Mount Desert Island, Alison Hudson is not far removed from the recent disaster that killed thousands of people in Nepal.
More than 7,000 people were killed and thousands more were injured in the earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. United Nations officials have estimated that 2 million people have been left homeless by the quake and subsequent aftershocks. The destruction also claimed several temples and structures recognized by the UN for their cultural significance.
Some of those killed were buried in an avalanche on Mount Everest, where Hudson had been working on a documentary film she is making about Sherpas, the indigenous community of Nepalese mountaineers who assist climbers up the world’s tallest peak. Hudson, a graduate of Salt Institute of Documentary Studies in Portland, had been in Nepal since early January and was at Base Camp on Everest filming and interviewing people only a few days before the earthquake hit.
Sitting at a table in her parents’ house, Hudson said Thursday she has contacted the people she knows in Nepal, all of whom are safe. But still, she added, she finds her mind preoccupied with the ongoing damage assessments and aid efforts in the country she first visited in 2011.
“Like an hourly basis,” she said, when asked how often she goes online to get updates. “Facebook’s been so easy for that. Everyone I know there is fine.”
On the day of the quake, Hudson was in the capital city of Kathmandu staying at the apartment of a friend, Ang Tshering, when the building began to shake around noon. She was by herself and ran and stood in a doorway while the violent tremors rattled everything around her for what felt like several minutes.
“It never stopped. It’s crazy,” Hudson said. “The ground is the one thing you expect to not move.”
The building stayed upright and, after the initial rumbling stopped, she grabbed her passport, money, smartphone and computer hard drive, ran down the stairs and went out into the street.
She stayed outside during the subsequent aftershocks. Four hours later, she went back inside to retrieve her other things, including her camera and laptop.
After a while, Hudson decided to walk to the American embassy. As she walked, she found out from other people that other parts of the city, including Durbar Square, suffered an enormous amount of damage from the quake.
“They just crumbled, almost all the buildings there [in Durbar Square],” Hudson said. “I guess it was more serious than I realized.”
She was supposed to stay in Nepal through May 25, but, not wanting to impose on Tshering and realizing there wasn’t much she could do to help, she decided to leave early. With help, she got on a flight the next day out of Kathmandu to Abu Dhabi, then flew home from there.
Hudson said she left a memory card at her friend’s apartment that has footage from Everest she needs to finish her film. But she said she is sure she will get it back before too long and can continue editing the footage she has in the meantime.
Hudson said she plans to complete the film as she originally envisioned it, without shifting its focus to the earthquake and its aftermath. She said the purpose of her film is to draw attention to individual Sherpas and the significant contributions many have made to mountaineering in Nepal and elsewhere.
An experienced backcountry guide, Hudson said she first went to the Himalayan country in 2011 for a few months to work for Initiative Outdoor, a first aid instruction program. While there, she was struck by the mountaineering accomplishments within the Sherpa community — she met one man who has summited Everest more than a dozen times — and by the relative anonymity that is imposed on the vast majority of them.
For example, she said she has been able to find reports naming all five non-Nepalese climbers who died April 25 at Base Camp. Reports identifying others who perished, she added, have been elusive.
“I still can’t find the names of the Sherpas who died [in the avalanche] in Base Camp,” Hudson said. “And I know all the people who are foreign who died in Base Camp. [The Sherpas are] not considered in the same way that foreigners are.”
She hopes her documentary will help draw supportive attention to Sherpas who work on Everest, whom she said often are not paid well for the work they do. Some Sherpas who work on the mountain do so reluctantly because of a lack of other job opportunities, she said, and if they die on the job the Nepalese government offers meager benefits to their families.
“I wanted to go and get some individual stories to bring more personality to the story so that people can appreciate more what work is done there,” Hudson said.
She said a group Tshering is involved with is raising money to help earthquake victims through nepalkayakclub.org. The funds are going to isolated villages that haven’t received much or any government assistance, she said. Another group Hudson is familiar with is raising funds online at alexlowe.org/p/earthquake-relief.
Hudson said the government in Nepal has a reputation for corruption and indifference, which is why little effort has been made to prepare the country for such disasters and why subsequent relief efforts have run into bureaucratic bottlenecks.
“There are so many more individual funds that people can contribute to,” Hudson said. “[Donors] should just know where the money is going and [make sure] that it isn’t going to the Nepali government.”
Hudson, who last year raised $9,200 to fund her documentary through a Kickstarter campaign, said updates on the film project can be found on the fundraising website. She said she plans to spend much of the summer out west, including four weeks on a hiking and sea kayaking expedition in Alaska, but plans to have the documentary finished by early August, when she hopes to submit it for consideration in the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.