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Michigan woman survives earthquake in Nepal

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TROY, Mich. – Two weeks ago, Brian Whitmer was disappointed that he fell ill and had to leave his girlfriend, Katharine Atto, in Nepal alone to continue their trip of a lifetime.

But when he landed back in the United States, his disappointment turned to worry when he learned a 7.8-magnitude earthquake had hit Nepal.

Atto had been in a mountain village with her guide when the ground began to shake.

"At first, the owner of the tea house said, 'Stay where you are.' But when the shaking continued, he yelled, 'Run.' We all just booked it out of the lodge and ran up a hill," Atto said. "Everything was shaking. It was like standing on a washing machine. I've never lived in California. It was scariest thing I ever felt."

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Without cellphone service or Internet for 24 hours, Whitmer didn't know if Atto was OK. A day later, he checked the tour company's Facebook page.

"Brian found out I was OK through Facebook," Atto said.

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She was alive, yes, but not yet safe. Atto and her guide still needed to make the trek down the mountain. They spent days looking for lodging and bracing for aftershocks.

"Every time the earthquakes hit, I ran into the door frame of my bathroom and thought, 'Please don't fall on me,'" Atto said.

One aftershock hit just after they had left a village because there was nowhere for them to stay.

 "I could hear screams from the village and heard rocks falling. I pray no one was injured, but if we stayed there, I would have been putting stuff away in one of those rooms," Atto said.

After a week of near misses, harrowing experiences and what Atto calls "sheer luck," she returned to Michigan and to Whitmer.

"Until Katie was back in my arms, my sense of worry didn't go away," Whitmer said.

Now the two pharmacists are back in Metro Detroit and back to their day jobs. They say they feel lucky to be alive and are content to book their next vacation a little closer to home. 

"It will be a stay-cation next time," Atto said.

The death toll from Nepal's April 25 earthquake now stands at 8,019, the country's National Emergency Operations Center said. Also, 17,866 people were injured and 366 are still missing, the center said.