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Nepal death toll climbs towards 2,000 as world responds to earthquake


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Officials say more than 700 died in Kathmandu alone, and at least 17 killed by an avalanche on Mount Everest’s base camp



Anna Codrea-Rado, Pete Pattisson and Ishwar Rauniyar in Kathmandu, Jason Burke in Delhi, Justin McCurry, Robin McKie and agencies


Sunday 26 April 2015 09.19 BST




The death toll from the devastating earthquake in Nepal climbed above 1,900 on Sunday and was continuing to rise as officials struggled to gauge the full scale of the disaster and the world rushed to provide desperately needed aid.


Dozens of aftershocks jolted Nepal on Saturday and Sunday as people sheltered where they could. Nepalese authorities continually revised the number of dead upwards a day after the Himalayan country was shaken by a magnitude 7.8 quake that wrecked houses, flattened centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches on Mount Everest.


More than 5,000 people had been injured, with the number of dead and injured expected to rise in the coming days. Nepalese police officials said more than 700 people died in Kathmandu alone.


An avalanche triggered by the quake struck a section of Everest’s base camp, killing at least 17 people and injuring 61 others, local reports said. Further up the mountain, about 100 climbers were safe but facing difficulty getting down as the route back to safety was damaged, with the situation of more people on other other routes on the mountain still unknown and rescue efforts under way.


Saturday’s earthquake, which originated outside Kathmandu, was the worst to hit Nepal, a landlocked nation sandwiched between India and China, in more than 80 years.


Thousands of residents in the capital, Kathmandu, and other regions struck by the quake spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in the open, too scared to return to homes that are vulnerable to strong aftershocks. Forecasts were for rain and thunder storms on Sunday, with temperatures around 14C adding to the difficult conditions for the displaced.


“We hardly slept through the night. It was cold and it rained briefly and it was uncomfortable but I am glad I brought my family out to the open,” said a Kathmandu resident, Ratna Singh, a vegetable vendor who was huddled under a blanket with his wife and son.


“At least I knew my family was safe. Every time the ground shook at night I thanked God my family was there with me, and safe. I don’t think I am going to be sleeping inside the house any time soon. We are all petrified.”


Sundar Sah, another resident of the capital, said: “There were at least three big quakes at night and early morning. How can we feel safe? This is never-ending and everyone is scared and worried.


“I hardly got any sleep. I was waking up every few hours and glad that I was alive.”


The quake destroyed the old, historic part of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across the northern part of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan.


International efforts to get search and rescue teams on the ground while there is still a chance of retrieving people alive from the rubble were gaining momentum on Sunday.


The US pledged $1m to the aid effort and said it would send a disaster response team, and Sri Lanka said it would contribute a plane with doctors, engineers and other supplies. Britain was sending a team of experts and a 68-strong search and rescue team from China was due to arrive later on Sunday.


India sent in military aircraft with medical equipment and relief teams. The Australian government pledged a $5m aid package.


Many areas were without power and water on Sunday but when Kathmandu airport reopened the first planes loaded with aid arrived. Workers were sending out tents and relief goods in trucks and helicopters, said a disaster management official, Rameshwar Dangal, adding that government and private schools had been turned into makeshift shelters.


Although there were signs that aid was beginning to get through, medical staff warned it was becoming increasingly difficult to treat the injured. Hospitals were overloaded and short on supplies.


Kumar Thapa, the head of Alka hospital in Lalitpur, said they were finding it difficult to cope with the numbers of injured people. “Shops are closed; it’s even difficult to manage food, water for the injured,” Thapa said.


Officials, families and aid agencies from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other countries were trying to determine the whereabouts of their nationals in Nepal.


The full scale of the destruction was becoming apparent on Sunday. There were reports that the Gorkha district in west Nepal, close to the quake’s epicentre, had been hit particularly hard.


Roads to the district were blocked by landslides, hampering rescue efforts, said the chief district official, Prakash Subedi. Rescue teams were having to trek along mountain trails to reach remote villages, he said, adding that helicopters would be deployed as soon as possible.


The administrative chief of the western development region, Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya, said: “So far 107 people have died in the district and we haven’t been able to send more support to three village development committees. We haven’t even started to count numbers of houses as there are hundreds of houses collapsed in the district.”


Thapaliya added, however, that there had been no reports of fatalities in the Annapurna base camp area, a popular trekking destination.


Survivors of the Everest avalanches were desperate to leave, a climbing guide, Pemba Sherpa, said. At least 300 tourists were waiting at Lukla, the gateway to the mountain.


“Many injured are being ferried to Lukla from Feriche and are getting treatment here,” Sherpa said. “Tourists are quarrelling with the airport officials for plane tickets as they want to go back.”


One climber, Alex Gavan, told how he had to run for his life after an avalanche struck Everest’s base camp. He said that many had died and many more were badly injured, and he called for urgent help to save those hurt.


Mohan Krishna Sapkota, a government official, also appealed for help. “We are facing a tremendous crisis here and it is hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage could be,” he said.


Relief efforts were being hampered by a collapse in communications, raising fears that a widespread humanitarian disaster was unravelling across the impoverished Himalayan nation of 28m. “This is a very large earthquake in a significantly populated region with infrastructure that has been damaged in past earthquakes,” said a US Geological Survey seismologist, Paul Earle.


The earthquake occurred a few minutes before noon on Saturday and rumbled across the densely populated Kathmandu valley, rippled through the capital and spread north towards the Himalayas and Tibet, and west towards the historic city of Lahore, in Pakistan. A magnitude 6.6 aftershock struck an hour later and there were smaller jolts in the region for hours.


Residents ran out of buildings in panic when the initial earthquake struck. Walls tumbled, large cracks opened on streets and walls, towers collapsed and clouds of dust began to swirl around.


“Our village has been almost wiped out,” said Vim Tamang, a resident of Manglung, near the epicentre. “Most of our houses are either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking.” He said that half the village’s population was missing or dead. “All the villagers have gathered in the open area. We don’t know what to do.”


An Indian tourist, Devyani Pant, was in a Kathmandu coffee shop when “suddenly the tables started trembling and paintings on the wall fell to the ground. I screamed and rushed outside.”


Later she reported that she could see three bodies of monks who had been trapped in the debris of a collapsed building. “We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped,” she said.


At Bir emergency hospital in Kathmandu, staff were fighting to treat the wounded and save the lives of dozens of badly injured victims. Gajendra Mani Shah, a doctor, said he was dealing mainly with head traumas and limb injuries from falling rubble. He said the hospital had treated about 400 patients so far and that at least 50 had died. People were lying in rows on mattresses, surrounded by blood-soaked tissues, and lined the corridors hooked up to intravenous drips.


Pushpa Das, a Kathmandu labourer, was injured when a wall collapsed on him as he ran from his house. “It was very scary. The earth was moving,” he told reporters as he waited for treatment outside one hospital. As he spoke dozens more showed up with injuries, mostly from falling bricks.


At the main hospital in Kathmandu, volunteers formed human chains to clear the way for ambulances to bring in the injured. Across the city rescuers scrabbled through the rubble of destroyed buildings, among them ancient wooden Hindu temples, in search of victims.


Thousands in Kathmandu bedded down in the open air after Nepal’s national radio warned people to stay outdoors because of the danger of more aftershocks. “Everyone is scared of a repeat,” said 29-year-old Rabin Shakya. “I rushed outside when I felt the earthquake. I was terrified. I’ve stayed outside all day.”


On one patch of ground in Kathmandu three children huddled under a blanket. Ragan Karki, 16, said he and his siblings had come there to seek shelter for the night and were waiting for their parents to join them. They had been in their third-floor flat when the earthquake struck. Ragan’s 12-year-old brother, Ryan, added: “I was scared but I didn’t cry.”


While the full scale of the disaster has yet to be ascertained, the earthquake is likely to put a huge strain on the resources of a poor country best known for the highest mountain in the world and its rich Hindu culture. The economy of Nepal is heavily dependent on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.


Among the buildings destroyed by the earthquake was the Unesco-listed Dharahara tower. The 60m tower was built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal. All the earthquake left of the lighthouse-like building was a jagged stump 10 metres high. Sujata Thapa, 22, said he was passing Dharahara when the earthquake struck. “I stood still. In a few seconds I saw Dharahara falling down. People were screaming.”


The tower had been a popular tourist destination and every weekend hundreds of people paid to go up to the viewing platform on its eighth storey. It is not immediately clear how many tourists were on the tower when it collapsed, though reports indicated that several bodies were later extracted from the ruins.


The earthquake was felt in India’s capital, New Delhi, and several other Indian cities. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, called a meeting of top government officials to review the damage and how to respond in parts of India that felt strong tremors. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim, which share a border with Nepal, reported building damage. Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, offered “all possible help” that Nepal may need.


“The earthquake is the nightmare scenario which we have long discussed and wondered if we could make major improvements before a catastrophe occurred,” said Dr Ilan Kelman, of the institute for risk and disaster reduction, at University College, London.


“Nepal has some of the world’s best people and initiatives for community-based seismic risk reduction and earthquake education. But the country has also suffered terrible conflicts, poor governance and heart-wrenching poverty, all of which created and perpetuated the vulnerability which has been devastatingly exposed during the shaking.


“The pictures and reports emerging do not bode well for other earthquake-prone cities with similar vulnerabilities.”




An injured person is helped to a landing area to be loaded on to a rescue helicopter at Everest base camp on Sunday. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images





A child is carried from the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kathmandu on Sunday. Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA





A woman mourns the death of a family member in Bhaktapur on Sunday. Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters


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