Campus News

Nepal quake a ‘surreal’ experience for UB administrator

From left: bill Sullivan and scott weber at base camp.

Scott Weber, right, and Bill Sullivan at Everest base camp. Photo: Bart Williams


Published April 30, 2015

“I’m glad to be home, but there’s an overwhelming sense of melancholy because I would like to be there as a potential resource for help in some way.”
A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs

Climbing 17,500 feet to base camp at Mount Everest was something A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs, had wanted to do for quite some time. He was fascinated by the mountain, read about it and spent time mapping out an itinerary before finalizing his plan.

He just didn’t expect that very place to turn into a disaster zone a mere eight days after he returned to Buffalo.

“To have the earthquake happen right after I was there is spooky, almost surreal,” Weber said this week in an interview with the UB Reporter. “I’m glad to be home, but there’s an overwhelming sense of melancholy because I would like to be there as a potential resource for help in some way.”

Weber, an avid hiker who has conquered the Adirondack 46 High Peaks, Mount Hood and Mount Whitney, to name a few, left for Everest on March 27. He traveled with UB alumnus and friend Bill Sullivan.

The two joined a group of hikers led by the International Mountain Guides (IMG). Physically, Weber said, he felt “pretty good” during the 10-day ascent to base camp from Lukla. The altitude was a challenge at times, causing some claustrophobia and restlessness, but overall he felt good.

Weber returned home April 17. Eight days later, he awoke to several emails and phone calls.

“I had not watched the news yet, but I raced to see what was happening and when I saw, I quickly went to the IMG website to check on members of our team that stayed to climb to the summit,” he said. “I was worried about them, our Sherpas and their relatives in Kathmandu and the surrounding villages.”

He said everyone on his team was safe. At the time of the earthquake, the team had climbed to Camps 1 and 2; the real damage, he said, was at base camp.

Everest base camp.

Everest base camp. Photo: Bill Sullivan

While in Kathmandu, Weber also had the chance to explore another passion of his — engineering. A former chair of UB’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Weber talked a lot about how the structures, especially in Kathmandu, seemed very prone to a major earthquake.

“It’s eerie because as we toured the city, you could sense the area would be very susceptible to seismic damage because most of the buildings are masonry and buildings are very close to one another,” he said. “I even asked when the last major earthquake was, never imagining it would happen so soon.”

It’s certainly very tragic, but it’s not exactly a surprise, said Shawn Malone, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Geology.

Nepal is fertile ground for earthquakes, Malone explained — and very large ones at that. It is a natural hazard of the area.

“It’s sort of like a lightning strike,” he said. “You know it is going to happen sooner or later. More fatal earthquakes will come — it could be tomorrow, it could be 100 years from now. All you can do is prepare for the worst.”

In fact, the Himalayas are Malone’s go-to example when he talks to his classes about continental collisions, of which earthquakes are a consequence. The mountains are still growing, are seismically active and everything is still in motion. It’s the most dramatic example of this, he said.

“Unfortunately, this area is too good of an example,” Malone said. “Unfortunately for the people of this area, this is part and parcel for living in one of the more dangerous geologically active places.”