Tamil Diplomat

Nepal death toll climbs towards 2,000 as world responds to earthquake

The death toll from the devastating earthquake in Nepal climbed above 1,900 on Sunday and was continuing to rise as officials struggled to gauge the full scale of the disaster and the world rushed to provide desperately needed aid.

Dozens of aftershocks jolted Nepal on Saturday and Sunday as people sheltered where they could. Nepalese authorities continually revised the number of dead upwards a day after the Himalayan country was shaken by a magnitude 7.8 quake that wrecked houses, flattened centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches onMount Everest.

More than 5,000 people had been injured, with the number of dead and injured expected to rise in the coming days. Nepalese police officials said more than 700 people died in Kathmandu alone.

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An avalanche triggered by the quake struck a section of Everest’s base camp, killing at least 17 people and injuring 61 others, local reports said. Further up the mountain, about 100 climbers were safe but facing difficulty getting down as the route back to safety was damaged, with the situation of more people on other other routes on the mountain still unknown and rescue efforts under way.

Saturday’s earthquake, which originated outside Kathmandu, was the worst to hit Nepal, a landlocked nation sandwiched between India and China, in more than 80 years.

Thousands of residents in the capital, Kathmandu, and other regions struck by the quake spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in the open, too scared to return to homes that are vulnerable to strong aftershocks. Forecasts were for rain and thunder storms on Sunday, with temperatures around 14C adding to the difficult conditions for the displaced.

“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 a Kathmandu resident, Ratna Singh, a vegetable vendor who was huddled under a blanket with his wife and son.

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“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.”

Sundar Sah, another resident of the capital, said: “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.

“I hardly got any sleep. I was waking up every few hours and glad that I was alive.”

The quake destroyed the old, historic part of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across the northern part of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan.

International efforts to get search and rescue teams on the ground while there is still a chance of retrieving people alive from the rubble were gaining momentum on Sunday.

The US pledged $1m to the aid effort and said it would send a disaster response team, and Sri Lanka said it would contribute a plane with doctors, engineers and other supplies. Britain was sending a team of experts and a 68-strong search and rescue team from China was due to arrive later on Sunday.

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India sent in military aircraft with medical equipment and relief teams. The Australian government pledged a $5m aid package.

Many areas were without power and water on Sunday but when Kathmandu airport reopened the first planes loaded with aid arrived. Workers were sending out tents and relief goods in trucks and helicopters, said a disaster management official, Rameshwar Dangal, adding that government and private schools had been turned into makeshift shelters.

Although there were signs that aid was beginning to get through, medical staff warned it was becoming increasingly difficult to treat the injured. Hospitals were overloaded and short on supplies.

Kumar Thapa, the head of Alka hospital in Lalitpur, said they were finding it difficult to cope with the numbers of injured people. “Shops are closed; it’s even difficult to manage food, water for the injured,” Thapa said.

Officials, families and aid agencies from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other countries were trying to determine the whereabouts of their nationals in Nepal.

The full scale of the destruction was becoming apparent on Sunday. There were reports that the Gorkha district in west Nepal, close to the quake’s epicentre, had been hit particularly hard.

Roads to the district were blocked by landslides, hampering rescue efforts, said the chief district official, Prakash Subedi. Rescue teams were having to trek along mountain trails to reach remote villages, he said, adding that helicopters would be deployed as soon as possible.

The administrative chief of the western development region, Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya, said: “So far 107 people have died in the district and we haven’t been able to send more support to three village development committees. We haven’t even started to count numbers of houses as there are hundreds of houses collapsed in the district.”

Thapaliya added, however, that there had been no reports of fatalities in the Annapurna base camp area, a popular trekking destination. (The Guardian )