The death toll from Nepal’s earthquake has risen to more than 3,200, two days after the massive temblor ripped across the Himalayan nation, leaving tens of thousands shell-shocked and sleeping in streets.
Aid groups received the first word from remote mountain villages – reports that suggested many communities perched on mountainsides were devastated or struggling to cope.
Landslides hindered rescue teams that tried to use mountain trails to reach those in need, said Prakash Subedi, chief district official in the Gorkha region, where the quake was centred.
“Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls,” said Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision. “It will likely be helicopter access only.”
Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake spread horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 18 people died there and 61 were injured.
Deputy inspector general of police Komal Singh Bam said the death toll had risen to 3,218. So far 18 people have also been confirmed dead in an avalanche that swept through the Mount Everest base camp in the wake of the earthquake. Another 61 people were killed in neighbouring India. China reported that 20 people had died in Tibet.
Kathmandu district chief administrator Ek Narayan Aryal said tents and water were being handed out at 10 locations in Kathmandu, but aftershocks were leaving everyone jittery.
“There have been nearly 100 earthquakes and aftershocks, which is making rescue work difficult. Even the rescuers are scared and running because of them,” he said.
Tens of thousands spent the night sleeping in parks or on a golf course. Others camped in open squares lined by cracked buildings and piles of rubble.
“We don’t feel safe at all. There have been so many aftershocks. It doesn’t stop,” said Rajendra Dhungana, 34, who spent the day with his niece’s family for her cremation at the Pashuputi Nath Temple in Katmandu. “I’ve watched hundreds of bodies burn.”
The capital city is largely a collection of small, poorly constructed brick apartment buildings. But outside of the oldest neighbourhoods, many in Kathmandu were surprised by how few modern structures collapsed in the quake.
Aid workers also warned that the situation could be far worse near the epicentre. The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred near Lamjung, about 50 miles north west of Kathmandu.
The earthquake was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in more than 80 years. It destroyed swathes of the oldest neighbourhoods of Kathmandu and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan.
Nepal’s worst recorded earthquake in 1934 measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.
Rescuers aided by international teams spent yesterday digging through rubble of buildings – concrete slabs, bricks, iron beams, wood – to look for survivors. Because the air was filled with chalky concrete dust, many people wore breathing masks or held shawls over their faces.
Hundreds of people in Kathmandu’s western Kalanki neighbourhood nervously watched the slow progress of a single digger on the rubble of the collapsed Lumbini Guest House, once a three-storey budget hotel.
Most areas were without power and water. The United Nations said hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded and running out of emergency supplies and space to store corpses.
Most shops in Kathmandu were closed after the government declared a week-long period of recovery. Only fruit sellers and pharmacies seemed to be doing business.
“More people are coming now,” fruit seller Shyam Jaiswal said. “They cannot cook so they need to buy something they can eat raw.”
Mr Jaiswal said stocks were running out, and more shipments were not expected for at least a week, but added: “We are not raising prices. That would be illegal, immoral profit.”
The quake will probably put a huge strain on the resources of this impoverished country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.
The first nations to respond were Nepal’s neighbours – India, China and Pakistan, all of which have been jockeying for influence over the landlocked nation. Nepal remains closest to India, with which it shares deep political, cultural and religious ties.
Other countries sending support included the United States, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Israel and Singapore.
An American military plane has left Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base for Nepal, carrying 70 people, including a disaster-assistance response team and an urban search-and-rescue team, and 45 tons of cargo.