Venturing through the beautiful landscape of Nepal was on Patricia Kooren’s bucket list after surviving ovarian cancer.
But her must-see trip transformed into a nightmare when a massive earthquake shook the San Diego woman’s hotel room in Kathmandu last Saturday. While her building withstood the violent rumble, one next door did not.
“We were all escorted to a field across from the hotel and you just saw people streaming from the streets to the field, crying. Some were hurt,” she said.
Kooren returned from Nepal on Monday and was back at her job as a speech pathologist at Jerabek Elementary in Scripps Ranch on Tuesday. She spoke exclusively to NBC 7 on Wednesday about her experience.
The earthquake happened when she and her husband were just hours away from a return flight to San Diego. Instead, she found herself looking at leaning buildings and having no idea how or when she was going to get home.
As locals searched for survivors, all she saw was an airport without order or planes leaving on Saturday night.
“What we learned is all the workers from the airport just ran and they were too scared to go back in, so the airport itself was fine but there was no staff,” she said.
She described the scene at the airport as “utter chaos.”
“When we got there, it was utter, utter chaos,” she said. “It was one at one point scarier than the earthquake itself.”
Without any flights departing that night, Kooren and her husband return to their hotel. After spending the night in her same hotel room – not sleeping because of aftershocks – some good news came from her airline: her flight would depart on Sunday.
But getting into the airport to get her ticket was a challenge, as guards were blocking the gates.
“We strapped on our backpacks and I hooked onto my husband and (with) some sort of ramming thing, rammed ourselves through the door with all the other people,” she said.
Some planes never landed at that airport in Nepal. Fortunately, Kooren’s plane did arrive, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she landed safely in San Diego on Monday night.