Published: Tuesday 28th April 2015 by The News Editor
The agonising wait for news of loved ones goes on for the families of scores of British and Irish people still missing in Nepal after Saturday’s devastating earthquake.
The Red Cross said 90 people were believed missing, though 35 are now thought to be safe.
But than 4,000 people are now known to have died in the worst earthquake to hit the small Himalayan country for more than 80 years. The death toll is expected to rise and thousands more are injured and homeless.
Eighteen people died on Mt Everest after an avalanche swept through its Base Camp, and more climbers are stranded higher up the mountain.
Britain has sent a team of Gurkha engineers to help with the disaster relief effort.
The soldiers left RAF Brize Norton late last night aboard an RAF C-17 transport aircraft packed with vital emergency supplies including more than 1,100 shelter kits and more than 1,700 solar lanterns.
Around the same time a small advance party of UK search and rescue teams – along with search dogs – arrived in Nepal’s stricken capital, Kathmandu.
A commercial plane sent from the UK on Sunday is now in Delhi, waiting for the green light to fly into Kathmandu’s overly-congested small airport.
The Government yesterday increased its pledge of financial aid, with International Development Secretary Justine Greening promising funds to match the first £5 million made in public donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Earthquake Appeal.
The DEC will make a televised appeal for public donations today, launched across all the major broadcasters.
The UK has already pledged a £5 million package of support, including £3 million released under the Rapid Response Facility (RRF) to address immediate needs on the ground and £2 million to the British Red Cross.
Ms Greening said: ” A swift and effective UK response to the Nepal earthquake means help is already reaching all those affected by this terrible disaster. But as the devastating scale of the crisis becomes clearer, we are stepping up our efforts.”
The Foreign Office said it had not received reports of any Britons being killed or injured but embassy staff have assisted 200 people.
Towns and villages across Nepal have been flattened, and communications problems in the worst-affected areas have left families and friends around the world anxiously awaiting news of loved ones.
Susannah Ross, 20, from Bath, is among a group of trekkers left stranded in the Langtang valley in the north of the country.
Her family received word via a woman in South Africa whose son is with her that she is safe, but they have no idea whether she is injured or not.
Her sister, Nina Ross, said: “The woman said they were running out of food and water and some of them were injured and they needed SOS rescue by helicopter as some were trapped.
“We were so overwhelmed that she was alive, but now it is a frantic race that she gets the help that she needs.
“We don’t know if she was one who is injured. It is cold there at night and they have no food or water. We don’t want her to come back in a worse state than she is in now.”
Aid workers on the ground have reported “huge logistical difficulties” as road closures and communication problems have thwarted some efforts.
Leigh Daynes, UK director of medical charity Doctors of the World, said Nepal’s health system was already vulnerable even before the earthquake, especially in rural areas.
“Now hospitals are utterly incapacitated, infrastructure has been decimated and thousands of people are sleeping on the streets. With monsoon season only weeks away, this is a catastrophe of the highest order and demands an urgent medical response,” he said.
“We are facing huge logistical difficulties. As well as roads being closed, aftershocks have prevented planes from landing at Kathmandu airport.”
The 7.8-magnitude quake struck just before midday on Saturday, sending tremors through the Kathmandu Valley and the nearby city of Pokhara.
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said while many newer buildings in the Kathmandu valley had survived, older ones had not been able to withstand the force of the shock.
“As the death toll continues to rise, it is our absolute priority to continue the search and rescue operations and get aid to those left stranded,” he said.
Some 67 firefighters from the International Search and Rescue Team (UKISAR) are among those helping.
The team is able to provide specialised, technical search and rescue assistance in collapsed structures. This will include locating and rescuing people, canine support, medical teams, engineering, assessing the damage and stabilising scenes.
UK spokesman Roy Wilsher said: “We want to ensure we are doing everything we can to help. The team which has gone out are all highly trained professionals who will be offering as much assistance in the rescue endeavour on the ground as they possibly can.”
Eight volunteers from Salisbury-based charity Serve On’s international rescue team also arrived in Nepal just before lunch yesterday and have begun search efforts after liaising with UN co-ordinators.
Tales of escape have emerged from survivors, of the earthquake, despite the difficulties with communication.
Climber Alex Staniforth, 19, from Chester, said he was “emotionally trashed” and “very lucky to be alive” after being evacuated to base camp.
Nicholas Roxburgh, a 26-year-old PhD student from Ormskirk, Lancashire, described running into the bathroom and finding an exit as soon as possible, before making his way to the street.
Mr Roxburgh, who lived in Nepal for nine months, said: “It was immediately clear there had been casualties.
“The lifeless bodies of two young children were carried in, while countless others arrived with a variety of horrific injuries – many having been hurt by falling masonry, others having been pulled from collapsed buildings.”
Disaster experts believe the earthquake will leave Nepal dependent on aid from countries such as the UK for years, and that recovery from the devastation could last a decade.
The Queen sent a message to the Nepalese government in which she said she was “shocked to hear of the appalling loss of life and injuries”.
:: Anyone who is caught up in the incident or worried about a family member should call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 (0) 207 008 0000. To donate, call 0370 60 60 900 or visit the website dec.org.uk.
Published: Tuesday 28th April 2015 by The News Editor