Nepal’s worst earthquake since 1934 has killed over 2,500 people and injured thousands, and forced many more on Sunday to camp in the open due to powerful aftershocks. As grieving families jostled for space to cremate the dead, India stepped up relief and rescue work in the Himalayan country with which it has close ties.
Hospitals here struggled to cope with the thousands being rushed for surgery following Saturday’s devastating 7.9 magnitude temblor, the nurses and doctors working non-stop. On Sunday, many were treated out in the open due to lack of beds and space to accommodate the injured.
As the international community rushed assistance to Nepal, the government declared a national calamity. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala made a frantic appeal for blood donation. But even as officials urged people not to go by wild rumours, there was a rush on shops to buy food and essential items.
“Our country is in a moment of crisis,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Minendra Rijal said here. “We have launched a massive rescue and rehabilitation action plan. We will require tremendous support.”
The police headquarters put the latest death toll at over 2,500, including 1,152 who perished in Kathmandu. The number of injured is estimated at nearly 6,000. Many lost their limbs as tonnes of debris collapsed on them.
It is the worst quake to hit Nepal after one in 1934 killed some 8,500 people.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over a high-level meeting in New Delhi to oversee the Indian efforts. “I can understand what the people of Nepal are going through,” he said, recalling his experience with the 2001 Gujarat quake. “My dear brothers and sisters of Nepal, we are with you.”
Thousands of men, women and children spent Saturday night out in the open, facing the prospect of spending another night without shelter. Many lay on plastic sheets or cardboard boxes wrapped in blankets. Most ate instant noodles and cookies to ward off the hunger. The UN said that hospitals were running out of rooms to store bodies and medical supplies.
Indian rescue teams on Sunday reached the epicentre of the devastating earthquake but found that despite extensive damage to property, the number of deaths was fewer than expected. The epicentre lay in Lamjung, about 75 km northwest of Kathmandu.
Defence Secretary R.K. Mathur said in Delhi: “We have rescued 141 people in the area and moved them to hospitals in Kathmandu.”
The Indian Air Force flew back 1,342 Indians from Nepal. It also took food packets, tents, medicines, blankets and medical teams to Nepal. The Indian Army said it planned long-term operations in Nepal.
Army chief General Dalbir Singh, who belongs to Gorkha regiment, told IANS: “There are a large number of ex-servicemen living in Nepal. We are specially concerned… We are sending teams to asses the situation.”
Even as an army of soldiers, police personnel and other officials were frantically engaged in relief work, another powerful temblor occurred on Sunday afternoon, causing aftershocks again in India, Bhutan and Tibet.
Thirty-nine aftershocks have hit Nepal since the first earthquake.
The UN office here said around 6.6 million people have been affected. The quake sparked an avalanche in Mount Everest, killing many mountaineers.
The disaster appeared to spare none, VVIPs included. President Ram Baran Yadav spent Saturday night in a tent after the quake caused several cracks in his office-cum-residence.
The main entrance to the residence of Prime Minister Koirala was damaged. So were several government offices in Kathmandu.
Worse, scores of ancient monuments and Hindu temples were destroyed or suffered varying degrees of damage, with one expert lamenting that some of them can never be restored to their original glory.
The disaster brought down historical monuments such as Dharahara tower in Kathmandu while Basantapur Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square were also destroyed.
At the Dharahara tower, rescuers found some 80 bodies, officials said.
Modi said: “My dear brothers and sisters of Nepal, we are with you.” He said India had sent rescue teams with sniffer dogs to save people buried in the rubble. “For Indians, Nepal’s plight is our plight. We will wipe the tears of every Nepali, hold their hands and give them support.”
Grieving families on Sunday cremated hundreds near the famed Pashupatinath temple here, overcrowding marking the final rites. Lack of adequate space forced hundreds to perform the last rites outside the designated spots.
“People are conducting the last rites wherever they can and without following the proper rituals,” a witness told IANS. Hindus form 80 percent of Nepal’s 29 million people. Buddhists account for another 10 percent.