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Rescuers battle to reach Nepal earthquake victims, PM Koirala says death toll could reach 10,000

The death toll in Nepal's earthquake could reach 10,000, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala told Reuters on Tuesday, ordering intensified rescue efforts and appealing for foreign supplies of tents and medicines.

world Updated: Apr 28, 2015 19:19 IST
Nepal,earthquake,Nepal earthquake

The death toll in Nepal's earthquake could reach 10,000, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala told Reuters on Tuesday, ordering intensified rescue efforts and appealing for foreign supplies of tents and medicines.

"The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing," Koirala said in an interview to Reuters. "It is a challenge and a very difficult hour for Nepal."

"The government needs tents, much medicine. People are sleeping in fields and rains," he said. "There are more than 7,000 people injured. Their treatment and rehabilitation is going to be a big challenge."

A home ministry official put the latest death toll at 4,349. If the death toll does reach 10,000, that would be even higher than the 8,500 killed in a massive 1934 quake, the Himalayan nation's worst disaster to date.

Eight million people have been affected by a devastating earthquake in Nepal, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

More than 1.4 million need food, while water and shelter are also in short supply, the UN said in a report.

Crisis loomed over the country following the shortage of food, water, electricity and medicines and fear drove people out into the open. In several remote areas near the epicentre of the quake, there were reports of frustration and anger among the survivors, who felt the authorities were not responding quickly enough.

Aid flights arrived through the day with emergency medical teams, search-and-rescue equipment and tarps for shelter but everything seemed to be in short supply in the capital Kathmandu and other affected areas.

However, congestion at the Kathmandu airport forced aircraft carrying aid from countries such as India to return and several flights were delayed by several hours.

More than two days after the quake struck, people searched for lost loved ones, sorted through rubble for their belongings and struggled to provide for their families' needs.

Thousands of families were camped in the streets and open parks, sleeping inside plastic tents as powerful aftershocks continued to rock the region.

"We have become refugees," said Sarga Dhaoubadel, a student whose ancestors had built her Bhaktapur family home over 400 years ago. They were subsisting on instant noodles and fruit.

People search amidst the rubble of collapsed houses in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal. (AFP Photo)

The death toll in India from the quake shot up to 72 with 56 deaths reported in Bihar, 12 in UP, three in West Bengal and one in Rajasthan.

India led international salvage and evacuation efforts as teams with sniffer dogs and metal-cutters raced to find survivors buried in the rubble, though the possibility of pulling out someone alive slimmed considerably two days after the monster quake hit the Himalayan nation.

“We will continue to look for survivors as long as possible,” said Nepal home ministry spokesperson Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, underscoring the resolve of a nation trying to pick up the pieces after its biggest tragedy in 80 years.

As rescue workers reach out to remote villages which have been inaccessible since the quake, the country's officials expressed fears the toll would go up to 5,000.

"There are people who are not getting food and shelter. I've had reports of villages where 70% of the houses have been destroyed," said Udav Prashad Timalsina a top official in Gorkha district where the quake was centred.

'Nepal needs more'

Aid is coming from more than a dozen countries and many charities, but Lila Mani Poudyal, the government's chief secretary and the rescue coordinator, said Nepal needed more.

"We urge foreign countries to give us special relief materials and medical teams. We are really desperate for more foreign expertise to
pull through this crisis," he said.

"We are appealing for tents, dry goods, blankets, mattresses, and 80 different medicines that we desperately need now," he told a press conference.

As people are pulled from the wreckage, he noted, even more help is needed.

"Now we especially need orthopaedic (doctors), nerve specialists, anaesthetists, surgeons and paramedics," he said. "We are appealing to foreign governments to send these specialised and smart teams."

Video: Drone footage reveals massive scale of destruction

Dozen countries help Nepal

Help was pouring into Nepal from across the world, as countries big and small sent in medical and rescue teams to provide disaster relief.
A Nepal army spokesman says rescue workers and medical teams from at least a dozen countries were in Nepal helping local police and army rescuers.

Maj. Gen. Binod Basnyat said the teams were in different places in Kathmandu and surrounding areas. India has sent the biggest team with six helicopters and seven trucks.

Seven Indian search and rescue teams and another seven medical teams were at work Monday in the worst-hit areas. They had rescued 10 people and recovered 40 bodies from the rubble of fallen buildings in different parts of Kathmandu.

China has sent a medical team and a team of experts to move through structures destroyed in the quake and help with search and rescue operations. Chinese doctors have set up a field hospital at the mountain resort town of Dhulikhel, 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of Kathmandu.

Two teams of US Army green beret soldiers who happened to be in Nepal when the deadly earthquake struck Saturday,are staying to help with search and relief efforts.

Even Nepal's tiny Himalayan neighbor, Bhutan, has sent a medical team to help the survivors of the quake.

Medical and rescue teams from Russia, Japan, France, Switzerland and Singapore were expected to arrive in Kathmandu over the next couple of days, the army said.

Mass cremations

Mass cremations were held in Kathmandu for the victims, even as rescuers continued to pull out bodies buried under the rubble of flattened homes and buildings.

Hundreds were cremated in open grounds as funeral pyres burned with families of victims wailing in grief after losing their loved ones.

A man grieves over the body of his relative recovered at the collapsed Sitapyla church in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo)

Almost every available space along the Bagmati river's banks and on its sandbank islands had been taken by the pyres.

Around these funerals, the families, hastily assembling their piles of wood, gathered. The smoke rose and floated over the city ravaged by the ugly devastation of the 7.9-magnitude quake.

Kathmandu shifted 3 metres?

Initial analysis of seismological data show that capital Kathmandu may have shifted about three metres (10 feet) southward, said University of Cambridge tectonics expert James Jackson.

An area of about 150 kilometres (93 miles) long and 50 km wide in a fault running underneath the Kathmandu valley, gave in after decades of pressure, causing rocks on top of the fault to slip southward over the rock underneath it.

The shifts may be large enough to necessitate adjustments to high-precision world maps.

Read: Frustrated by govt's slow response, people in quake-hit Nepal dig in rubble to find loved ones

Disaster politics: India, China, Pak compete in quake-hit Nepal

Operations at Kathmandu airport hit by congestion

(With inputs from Reuters, AP and AFP)

First Published: Apr 28, 2015 14:06 IST