Aid teams arrive at earthquake zone

Published: Sunday 26th April 2015 by The News Editor

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Tens of thousands of traumatised Nepalese who spent the night under a chilly sky were jolted awake by strong aftershocks as rescuers cleared rubble in search of survivors of the powerful earthquake that killed at least more than 1,800 people.

Nepal bore the brunt of the quake’s impact with at least 1,805 dead and more than 5,000 injured and the toll is expected to climb as more reports come in from far-flung areas.

Among the dead are at least 17 who were struck by a quake-triggered avalanche on Mount Everest that buried part of the base camp packed with foreigners at the end of the climbing season.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which originated outside the capital Kathmandu, was the worst to hit the poor Himalayan nation in over 80 years. It destroyed the historic part of the city and was strong enough to be felt across the northern part of neighbouring India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan, where a total of 60 people died.

“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,” said Sundar Sah. “I hardly got much sleep. I was waking up every few hours and glad that I was alive.”

When the earth first shook, residents fled homes and buildings in panic. Walls tumbled, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets and walls.

After yesterday’s chaos – when little organised rescue and relief was seen – there was relatively more order as rescue teams fanned out across the city. At one place in the Kalanki neighbourhood, police rescuers tried to extricate a man lying under a dead person, crushed by a pile of concrete slabs and iron beams. His family members stood nearby, crying and praying.

Police said the man’s legs and hips were crushed.

“We are digging the debris around him, cutting through concrete and iron beams. We will be able to pull him out but his body under his waist is totally crushed. He is still alive and crying for help. We are going to save him,” said police officer Suresh Rai.

Most areas were without power and water, but with Kathamandu airport reopened, the first aid flights began delivering aid supplies. Workers were sending out tents and relief goods in trucks and helicopters, said disaster management official Rameshwar Dangal. He said schools had been turned into shelters.

Roads to Gorkha district, the site of the epicentre, were blocked by landslides, hindering rescue teams, chief district official Prakash Subedi said. Teams were trekking on foot through mountain trails to reach remote villages, and helicopters would also be deployed, he said.

Mukesh Kafle, head of Nepal Electricity Authority, said power had been restored to the main government office, the airport and hospitals. But the damage to the electricity cables and poles was making it difficult to restore power across many parts of the country.

“We have to make sure all cables are secure before turning the power on. Our technicians have been working round the clock to restore power to the people,” he said.

More than two dozen aftershocks jolted Nepal yesterday and more continued today. Forecasts predicted for rain and thunder today and the temperatures were in the mid-50s (14 Celsius), cold enough to make camping outside uncomfortable.

Nevertheless thousands of people spent the night at Tudikhel, a vast open ground in the middle of Kathmandu, next to the old city that is lined with historic buildings and narrow lanes. Now it is in ruins.

“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 Ratna Singh, a vegetable seller 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.”

The quake will put a huge strain on the resources of Nepal, best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The economy of the nation of 27.8 million people relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.

The world reacted with alacrity to the disaster, offering aid in the form of money, relief material, equipment, expertise and rescue teams.

Among the first to move in was Nepal’s giant neighbour India, with which it has close political, cultural and religious ties. Nepal is the world’s only Hindu nation and majority of Indians are Hindus, although it does not have an official religion.

Indian air force planes landed with 43 tons of relief material, including tents and food, and nearly 200 rescuers. The planes were returning to New Delhi with Indian nationals who were stranded in Kathmandu. More aid flights are planned.

Hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded, running out of room for storing dead bodies and running out of emergency supplies, the United Nations said.

Officials said an avalanche after the quake swept base camp where expeditions were preparing to scale Everest, flattening tents and killing at least 17 climbers and guides and injuring 61. Their nationalities were not immediately known. An unknown number were missing.

Published: Sunday 26th April 2015 by The News Editor

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