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Nepal earthquake toll may touch 10,000; rescuers reach remote villages

Rescuers and international aid workers on Tuesday struggled to reach relief in remote areas of Nepal which is still battling the aftermath of the earthquake whose death toll has been put at around 10,000 by prime minister Sushil Koirala.

world Updated: Apr 29, 2015 08:12 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times
Nepal earthquake,United Nations,Sushil Koirala

Rescue workers finally reached the rugged mountainous areas in Nepal on Tuesday, relaying first pictures of horrific scenes in isolated and flattened villages which prompted Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to announce that the death toll could touch 10,000.

An interior ministry official put the death count at 5,057, saying the number would climb up as hundreds were still trapped under tonnes of rubble in Kathmandu and some of the worst-affected remote areas which have been fending for themselves since Saturday’s 7.9-magnitude quake.

The body of a victim remains buried under the rubble of a damamged building in Kathmandu. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Prime Minister Koirala appealed for more international aid as helicopters crisscrossed the skies above the high mountains of Gorkha district, ferrying the injured to towns for treatment, and aid supplies back out to remote villages — some reachable only by air after landslides blocked mountain roads.

“The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing. The death toll could go up to 10,000 because information from remote villages hit by the earthquake is yet to come in,” Prime Minister Koirala said.

Nepal’s government has struggled in the wake of the country's worst disaster in nearly a century. Not so India as it pressed rescuers, sniffer dogs, tents and food within hours, winning praise from stranded Nepalis.

"We have no faith in our government, only India and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi are helping us," said villager Dhruba Kandel in Dhading. "If it were not for these helicopters, people would be dying on the mountains by the dozens."

Modi offered assistance only an hour after the quake and shipments of Indian aid arrived in Nepal within just six or seven hours.

At a 12-bed hospital deep in the Himalayan mountains, Indian Air Force helicopters brought survivors: injured men, women and children plucked from hilltops and inaccessible valleys.

8 million hit: UN

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN resident coordinator in Kathmandu, told reporters that 8 million people had been affected by the quake, and that 1.4 million needed food assistance.

After flying by helicopter over the Kathmandu Valley, he noted the erratic path of the quake’s power.

“Some areas on one ridge are completely untouched, on the other side it’s completely flattened,” he said.

A local searches for his belongings among the rubble of a damaged house in Kathmandu. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

The quake was so strong that it shifted the earth beneath Bihar by up to several feet underneath Nepal in a matter of seconds, a geologist said on Tuesday.

“The rock (the crust, or more precisely lithosphere) below Bihar slid under Nepal along a zone from Bharatpur, through Hetauda, to Janakpur,” said Colin Stark of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at the US-based Columbia University. The length of the shift could be between 1 to 10 feet.

Rain hampers rescue missions

Rain hampered rescue missions and brought fresh misery to the Kathmandu Valley, where tens of thousands of people are living outside in fear.

At outdoor cremation grounds, which have been busy almost nonstop since the quake, the rain changed very little at all. The work continued: men carried logs; families lit funeral pyres; marigolds fell from corpses being lifted atop piles of wood.
Dutch police look for bodies in the rubble of a damaged house in Kathmandu. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Amid the gloom, miracles emerged from the debris as a woman was rescued after spending four days trapped under the rubble of a five-storey house in Kathmandu and all of the climbers who had been stranded at camps high up on the route to Mount Everest were airlifted to safety.

A group of 15 people from Russia and the CIS states crossed over to India by road on Tuesday, becoming the first foreign tourists to leave Nepal through Raxaul in Bihar.

Indians working in Nepal also started arriving at the border towns of Birgunj in ones and twos, some walking all the way from Kathmandu, a distance of over 250km.

India sends Gorkha soldiers

With the Chinese pressing their men into the rescue effort, reports of a friction with India emerged on Tuesday. But Nepal interior ministry spokesperson Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said no such thing existed.

India enlarged its relief and rescue operations to the worst-affected epicentre areas and rushed Gorkha soldiers to remote places to assess the kind of assistance required.

Tapping its 38,000-strong force of Gorkha soldiers, the Indian Army has sent "quite a few of them" to various parts of Nepal to ascertain the requirements in remote places.

Over 20,000 Indian nationals have so far been evacuated from quake-torn Nepal and arrangements were being made to take them to their homes by trains from Raxaul.

As many as 20,000 Indian nationals have reached Raxaul from various destinations of quake-torn Nepal since Monday, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said adding that arrangements were being made for trains to send them to different states back home.

India has also helped evacuate from 170 nationals from 15 countries, the government on Tuesday said. "Friends in need," the foreign ministry tweeted this evening, giving details of the number of foreign nationals evacuated on commercial and IAF aircraft.

Most of these nationals - 71 - are from Spain, which had on Monday asked India for help to evacuate its citizens. There are many also from Poland, Czech Republic, US, UK, Germany and France.

( With inputs from PTI, AP, Reuters)

First Published: Apr 28, 2015 18:33 IST