Tens of thousands of frightened Nepalese huddled in tent cities Monday, desperate for help after a quake that killed more than 3,500 people, as international rescue teams with sniffer dogs raced to find survivors buried in the rubble.
Teams equipped with heavy cutting gear and relief supplies were landing round the clock at the nation’s only international airport, on the outskirts of Kathmandu which has been devastated by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake.
Officials say more than 3,500 people are now known to have died, including 3,432 in Nepal — making it the quake-prone Himalayan nation’s deadliest disaster in more than 80 years.
More than 90 people have been killed in neighbouring India and China while a further 6,509 people were injured in Nepal.
Families, the sick and elderly packed into parks and other open spaces in Kathmandu after losing their houses, with powerful aftershocks making others too terrified to return home.
“This is a nightmare, why don’t these aftershocks stop?” asked 70-year-old Sanu Ranjitkar, clutching her dog and with an oxygen mask strapped to her face as she sat under a tarpaulin.
With just sheets of plastic to protect them from the cold and rain, many said they were desperate for aid and information on what to do next.
“There is just too much fear and confusion,” said Bijay Sreshth, listening to a radio in the hope of hearing a message from the government.
“We don’t know what to do next or for how much longer we are here,” said Sreshth, who fled to a park with his three children, wife and mother when the quake hit.
Lengthy queues formed outside petrol stations while supermarkets were seeing a run on staples such as rice and cooking oil.
A government official said tonnes of clean water and other essential supplies were needed for the survivors as well as stepped-up search and rescue efforts outside the capital.
– Rescue on Everest –
“We need more helicopters for our rescue operations in rural areas,” home minister spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told AFP.
“We also need supplies of essential goods such as food and clean water to provide relief for survivors.”
The quake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest which buried part of base camp in a cascade of snow and rock, killing at least 18 people on the world’s highest mountain.
Rescue helicopters on Monday began airlifting climbers from higher altitudes on the mountain where they were stranded above crevasses and icefalls, after evacuating scores of seriously injured from base camp the day before.
Hundreds of mountaineers had gathered at Everest at the start of the annual climbing season, and the real scale of the disaster there has been impossible to evaluate with communications all but cut off.
– ‘Why do we suffer?’ –
“We have deployed three helicopters today to bring climbers down from camp one and two. They are safe but we need to bring them down because part of the route is damaged,” tourism department head Tulsi Gautam said.
“It is possible that climbing might not continue this year. However, there has been no official decision.”
Reconstruction efforts in impoverished Nepal could cost than $5 billion, or around 20 percent of the country’s GDP, according to Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at business research firm IHS.
Much of the historic centre of Kathmandu is in ruins, with many historic sites destroyed, and the chaos has been exacerbated by power cuts while the cell phone network is at breaking point.
Nearly a million children living in affected areas are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, UNICEF said.
– Food and blankets –
Rameshwor Dangal, who heads the home ministry’s national disaster management division, said emergency crews would step up their efforts to rescue those trapped in the rubble of high-rise buildings.
In Kathmandu’s Balaju neighbourhood, one father endured the agony of watching police pull the body of his daughter from the rubble of their home after using a combination of a mechanical digger, hammers and bare hands.
“She was my everything, she didn’t do anything wrong, she didn’t have to die,” said Dayaram Mohat as he collapsed on the ground in grief on hearing the news of his 14-year-old daughter Prasamsah’s death.
The Nepalese rescuers were being joined by hundreds of foreign aid workers from countries including China, India and the United States.
Around 70 US aid workers, along with rescue dogs, headed to Nepal aboard a military transport plane which flew from Delaware.
The European Commission released 3.0 million euros in emergency aid which will help fund clean water, medicine, emergency shelter and telecommunications.
Hospitals have been overwhelmed, with morgues overflowing and medics working around the clock to cope with an endless stream of victims suffering trauma or multiple fractures.
The epicentre of the quake was around 45 miles (73 kilometers) east of the town of Pokhara, the country’s centre for adventure sports, but an AFP correspondent reported the town had been largely unaffected and tourists were continuing with their holidays.
Nepal and the rest of the Himalayas, where the Indian and Eurasia tectonic plates collide, are particularly prone to earthquakes.
An 6.8 magnitude quake hit eastern Nepal in August 1988 killing 721 people, and a magnitude 8.1 quake killed 10,700 people in Nepal and India in 1934.