UNL faculty survive earthquake in Nepal

UNL faculty survive earthquake in Nepal

Sylvia Wiegand

Two emeriti faculty from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are among the survivors of the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25.

Roger and Sylvia Wiegand, professors emeriti of mathematics, were attending the First International Workshop and Conference on Commutative Algebra in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu when the earthquake struck about 50 miles northwest of the city.

The Wiegands helped organize the week-long event at Tribhuvan University after first visiting the institution in April 2014. The couple, which collaborated with a member of the Tribhuvan faculty to recruit about 50 Nepalese students for the event, lined up speakers from India, the Czech Republic, Italy, Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

The earthquake struck near the end of a presentation on the sixth day of the seven-day conference, forcing a panicked evacuation of the lecture hall that was housing the event.

“We cleared out of the room fast, falling down and then picking ourselves up, feeling dizzy and out of control with the swaying,” the couple said in an email. “The escape from the lecture hall was dangerous and acutely frightening, though none of the 60 participants was injured.”

The Wiegands said their group was fortunate to avoid the worst devastation wrought by the earthquake, though the Kathmandu district that hosted the conference now holds “many piles of rubble … four-story buildings tipping 30 degrees from the vertical, and clouds of dust rising from toppled buildings in the distance.”

Dozens of aftershocks and fear of another major quake have kept the populace on edge but unbowed, according to the couple, which has received free meals and lodging under the provisions of a government-issued state of emergency. Like much of the rest of the country, the Wiegands have slept outside to avoid the potential of collapsing infrastructure.

“The last (few days) have been an exercise in fear management and in negotiation of the chaos and unbelievable tragedy that is Kathmandu,” they wrote. “(But) the resilience of the Nepali people is remarkable. They (have gone) out of their way to help us. We were so lucky to be in a safe building and to have been treated so well.”

The Wiegands are scheduled to fly out of Nepal on April 29 and plan to land in Lincoln the following day. The couple said they hope to return and host a second edition of the algebra conference in late 2016.

As of April 28, numerous news agencies report that damage from the earthquake has killed more than 5,000 people and injured thousands more.

Nepalese students at UNL have planned a candlelight vigil on April 30 to honor the fallen and raise money for survivors. To learn more about the vigil, click here.