Capt. Andrew Olvera and his crew from the Los Angeles Fire Department were one of two specialized search-and-rescue teams from the United States sent to Nepal following last weekend’s devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that left over 6,000 people dead and thousands more missing.
Olvera and his team spent days combing the rubble in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu and beyond in search of victims trapped by the quake, but found no survivors. That all changed Thursday morning when Olvera received a report that Nepalese police searching through a collapsed hotel with an excavator had heard someone shouting from inside.
What the L.A.-based crew found when they arrived was a collapsed nine-story building that would quickly become a tomb for a trapped 15-year old boy named Pemba Lama – unless the rescue crews acted fast.
For the next three hours, Olvera and his crew, along with a team from Fairfax County, Va. and Nepalese officials, worked tirelessly to extricate the 15-year old who was trapped underground for almost a week. As Lama was finally brought to the surface – scratched up and dehydrated, but relatively unharmed – hundreds of onlookers gathered near the hotel rubble and sent up a cheer as the boy was driven off to an Israeli field hospital for treatment.
"He obviously has a strong will, to be in there six days and come out talking to us," Olvera said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The rescue of Lama was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dark week for the Himalayan nation that has seen the death toll from the mammoth quake climb to 6,260 and more than 130,000 houses reportedly destroyed, according to the U.N. humanitarian office.
While much of the country still remains isolated and in desperate need of supplies and aid, the capital of Kathmandu, however, is slowly crawling back to normalcy just under a week following the tremor.
Fresh croissants emerged from a popular bakery and were quickly snapped up. Farmers delivered fresh produce and lines disappeared at gasoline stations.
As rescue workers continued to comb the rubble in Kathmandu for survivors, the government said it was giving the equivalent of $1,000 to families of each victim killed in Saturday's earthquake, and another $400 for funeral costs, according to state-run Nepal Radio.
Although poorer sections of the city remained strewn with collapsed buildings, there were visibly fewer tents standing in a central part of Kathmandu that had been packed with people in the first few days after the magnitude-7.8 quake hit amid repeated aftershocks.
Krishna Maharjan, a farmer on the outskirts, brought green onions and cauliflower on his bicycle into the city.
"We are trying to get as much fresh food to the people as possible," he said. "I feel it is our small contribution. But that's what we can do and every little bit helps."
In the past 48 hours, the U.N. Children's Fund, or UNICEF, has delivered nearly 30 metric tons of supplies, including tents, water purification tablets, and first aid and hygiene kits, but operations are still hindered by the remote locales of many parts of Nepal.
"Inaccessibility to some remote areas, the lack of helicopters, poor communication and security concerns remain the main challenges in delivering relief," said Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general.
A group of Nepal's Gurkhas serving the British army have rushed back home to help their quake-hit countrymen get clean drinking water. The soldiers from the Queen's Gurkha Engineers Unit on Thursday set up a portable water purification unit on the Kathmandu grounds of the old royal palace.
"I am just glad I could serve my countrymen when they really needed something so necessary like clean drinking water," said Cpl. Bhesh Gurung, 34. "I have been away for 13 years serving in a foreign land and finally I can do something for my motherland."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.