Death toll crosses 3,600 in Nepal earthquake, thousands seek shelter

  • Utpal Parashar, Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
  • Updated: Apr 27, 2015 14:56 IST

Thousands of desperate Nepalese took shelter under tents and sought help on Monday, two days after a massive quake killed more than 3,600 people, as overwhelmed authorities struggled to provide for the wounded and homeless.

The toll is likely to climb as rescuers struggle to reach remote regions in the impoverished, mountainous country of 28 million people and as bodies buried under rubble are recovered. It has been over 40 hours since an earthquake measuring 7.6 on Richter scale ravaged Kathmandu and several other parts of Nepal, but the aftershocks are still continuing.

In the past two days, there have been 83 aftershocks measuring over 4 on Richter scale with one on Sunday afternoon recording as high as 6.9. There have been over 200 minor tremors.

"The intensity and frequency of the shocks are likely to gradually come down, but it could take another 24-36 hours or more for that," said Lok Bijay Adhikari, chief of National Seismological Centre.

The aftershocks and rumours about another big quake forced residents in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal spent the second consecutive night in open spaces and under tents.

"There is no way to predict the time, place or intensity of any quake. Therefore people should not believe such rumors," said Adhikari.

While the tremors are slowly becoming less intense, affected residents were more troubled by the rains that lashed the capital and several other towns on Sunday night forcing those living in the open to seek cover.

According to the meteorology department, 4 mm of rainfall was recorded in Kathmandu. More showers are expected in late afternoons and evenings.

"The weather will remain cloudy with possibility of brief rain and thundershowers in some places of eastern Nepal and central hilly region," said an official of the department of hydrology and meteorology.

There are fears that rains could lead to avalanches and landslides and could hamper search, rescue and relief work. Many people are still feared to be buried under rubble in Kathmandu and elsewhere.

Waiting for help

Across Kathmandu and beyond, exhausted families whose homes were either flattened or at risk of collapse laid mattresses out on streets and erected tents to shelter from the rain.

The sick and wounded lay out in the open in the capital, unable to find beds in the devastated city's hospitals. Surgeons set up an operating theatre inside a tent on the grounds of Kathmandu Medical College.

"We are overwhelmed with rescue and assistance requests from all across the country," Deepak Panda, a member of the country's disaster management, told Reuters.

At the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, bodies, including that of a boy aged about seven, were heaped in a dark room. The stench of death was overpowering.

Outside, a 30-year-old woman who had been widowed wailed: "Oh Lord, why did you take him alone? Take me along with him."

Relatives mourn near the bodies of those killed in earthquake at a hospital, in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo)

"The earthquake has exposed that Nepal's best public hospital infrastructure has crumbled at a time when it should serve more people in a hurry," said Sarvendra Moongla, a senior surgeon at Bir Hospital's Trauma Centre in Kathmandu, which opened in February.

People queued for water dispensed from the back of trucks while the few stores still open had next to nothing on their shelves. Crowds jostled for medicine at one pharmacy.

With so many people sleeping in the open with no power or water and downpours forecast, fears mounted of major food and water shortages. Across Nepal, hundreds of villages have been left to fend for themselves.

Several countries rushed to send aid and personnel.

India flew in medical supplies and members of its National Disaster Response Force. China sent a 60-strong emergency team. Till Sunday over 1,000 Indians had been flown back to New Delhi. Beijing has also sent planes to rescue over 600 of its citizens from Kathmandu.

Pakistan's army said it was sending four C-130 aircraft with a 30-bed hospital, search and rescue teams and relief supplies.

A Pentagon spokesman said a US military aircraft with 70 personnel left the United States on Sunday and was due in Kathmandu on Monday. Australia said it was sending a specialist urban search-and-rescue team to Kathmandu at Nepal's request.

Britain, which believes several hundred of its nationals are in Nepal, said it was delivering supplies, medics and search-and-rescue teams.

However, there has been little sign of international assistance on the ground so far, with some aid flights prevented from landing by aftershocks that closed Kathmandu's main Tribhuban International Airport several times on Sunday.

'Monstrous sound'

High in the Himalayas, hundreds of foreign and Nepalese climbers remained trapped after a huge avalanche ripped through a base camp for climbers, killing 17 people in the worst single disaster to hit Mount Everest.

Climbers felt tremors on Sunday powerful enough to send snow and boulders cascading towards them. Another was felt early on Monday.

An injured person is loaded onto a rescue helicopter at Everest Base Camp. (AFP Photo)

The huge and deadly avalanche on Saturday triggered by the earthquake caused panic at the Everest base camp, a sprawling "city" of tents from where mountaineers set off for the world's highest peak.

"It was a monstrous sound, like the demons had descended on the mountain," Khile Sherpa, a Nepalese guide, told Reuters, recalling the moment the avalanche hit.

He was one of the lucky few airlifted to the relative safety of Kathmandu, but the disaster has underlined the woeful state of Nepal's medical facilities.

Nepal has only 2.1 physicians and 50 hospital beds for every 10,000 people, according to a 2011 World Health Organization report.

After the quake

Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at business research firm IHS, said long-term reconstruction costs in Nepal using proper building standards for an earthquake zone could be more than $5 billion, or around 20% of the country's GDP.

"With housing construction standards in Nepal being extremely low ... the impact of the earthquake has been devastating based on initial reports," he said in an early analysis of the likely damage.

In crowded Kathmandu, many buildings were flattened or badly damaged.

Nepali army officer Santosh Nepal and a group of rescuers worked all night on Saturday to open a passage into a collapsed building in Kathmandu. They used pick axes because bulldozers could not get through the ancient city's narrow streets.

"We believe there are still people trapped inside," he told Reuters, pointing at concrete debris and twisted reinforcement rods where a three-storey residential building once stood.

(With Reuters inputs)

Helpline numbers:

Nepal government
: +97714200258, +97714200105, +97714200203
Indian Embassy in Kathmandu: +977 9851107021, +977 9851135141
24-hour control rooms: +91 11 2301 2113, +91 11 2301 4104, +91 11 2301 7905

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