At 4 a.m. Saturday, a stranger stationed in remote Nepal woke Kelly Fitzpatrick in Goose Creek to tell her that her husband was safe.
Dr. David Fitzpatrick, a primary care physician temporarily working on Mount Everest, had survived the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal and a deadly avalanche on the world’s tallest mountain.
“Dave was fine — he was helping, he was fine,” Kelly said.
Then, David called Kelly himself. He said he’d borrowed someone’s satellite phone and he sounded a “little frantic,” she said. He didn’t really have time to explain what had happened, except to say he was OK.
“He said, ‘I’m safe. The valley below is devastated. It’s going to take time to get out,’” Kelly recalled. “I felt confident knowing he was fine.”
Even in the best conditions, Mount Everest is dangerous. Fitzpatrick, 49, who graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in 1992 and now works part time at the Charleston Non-Surgical Center, left the Lowcountry on March 25 with a New Zealand-based group called Adventure Consultants. He signed on to help climbers on the mountain with altitude sickness and other medical needs, but never intended to summit its peak, his wife said. He wasn’t expected to return until early June.
“I knew and he knew going in that Everest is not a safe place to be on a good day,” she said. “Base camp is on glacier ... Avalanches happen all the time.”
For now, he will remain at base camp and care for survivors until it’s safe to get to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city.
“Could be days, could be weeks,” Kelly said.
She’s been told the team has plenty of food, clean water and medical supplies for now.
At least 18 people died on the mountain from the avalanche and more than 4,000 people have died in Nepal from the earthquake.
Heather Woolwine, who works in the communications office at MUSC, said her sister Brenna Murphy survived. Murphy is an artist living in Nepal.
“Things were falling off the shelves and glass was breaking all around me, but the table protected me — not even one tiny cut, surprisingly,” Murphy told her family in an email. “Once the shaking stopped, I quickly made my way down the stairs, grabbed a bag with our passports, money, etc. and then went outside.”
Woolwine said her sister’s boyfriend is finishing his anthropology doctorate in Nepal. She found out both were safe almost immediately.
“I found out through email and Facebook before I even saw the first news account — then immediately went online to get a better understanding of the destruction,” Woolwine said. “I read her words over and over again, and saw that she was calm, positive, and thinking about all the right things ... albeit scared. My heart swelled. I realized I trust my sister with all my being to do what she needs to do to be safe and help others. I’m really proud of her right now.”
Murphy has been able to send regular email updates to her family.
“The aftershocks are less and less frequent and very minimal. But they still seem to be coming a teeny bit here and there,” she wrote this weekend. “We are back in the apartment now — it appears to be safe, but I don’t feel safe anywhere right now, to be honest. I don’t know how we will sleep tonight.”
Murphy and her boyfriend have decided to sleep in an open field for the time being, she wrote this morning.
Meanwhile, the death toll continues mounting. Survivors on Mount Everest say many more people are missing on the mountain and may be dead.
“The snow swept away many tents and people,” said Gyelu Sherpa, a sunburned guide among the first group of 15 injured survivors to reach Kathmandu.
Bhim Bahadur Khatri, 35, a cook and a Sherpa, was preparing food in a meal tent when the avalanche struck.
“We all rushed out to the open and the next moment a huge wall of snow just piled on me,” he said in a brief airport interview before being driven to a hospital. “I managed to dig out of what could easily have been my grave. I wiggled and used my hands as claws to dig as much as I could. I was suffocating, I could not breathe. But I knew I had to survive.”
When he finally dug his way out, gulping in fresh air, he was surrounded by devastation. Part of the base camp village was gone.
“I looked around and saw the tents all torn and crushed. Many people were injured,” he said. “I had lived but lost many of my friends.”
Around the world, aid is beginning to go to the aid of the survivors. Water Missions International is readying water purification units and a flight from Joint Base Charleston is flying a team of California firefighters and heavy equipment to the area to search for victims.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.