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3,700 people in Nepal left homeless

28 April, 2015

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KATHMANDU: Nepalese officials scrambled on Monday to get aid from the main airport to people left homeless and hungry by a devastating earthquake two days earlier, while thousands tired of waiting fled the capital Kathmandu for the surrounding plains.

By afternoon, the death toll from Saturday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake had climbed to more than 3,700, and reports trickling in from remote areas suggested it would rise significantly. A senior interior ministry official said it could reach as much as 5,000, in the worse such disaster in Nepal since 1934, when 8,500 people were killed. Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport was hobbled by many employees not showing up for work, people trying to get out, and a series of aftershocks which forced it to close several times since the quake.

Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam was supervising aid delivery and arranging for passengers to leave the country. Government officials said they needed more supplies of food, medicines, specialized rescue services and body bags. “The morgues are getting totally full,” said Shankar Koirala, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office who is dealing with the disposal of bodies. Families lit funeral pyres for the dead in towns and across the countryside. Many of Kathmandu’s one million residents have slept in the open since Saturday, either because their homes were flattened or they were terrified that aftershocks would bring them crashing down.

On Monday, thousands streamed out of the city. Roads leading from Kathmandu were jammed with people, some carrying babies, trying to climb onto buses or hitch rides aboard cars and trucks to the plains. Long queues had formed at the airport. “We are escaping,” said Krishna Muktari, who runs a small grocery store in Kathmandu, standing at a road intersection. Meanwhile, the extent of Nepal’s disaster was only just emerging as reports of devastation began to come in from other parts of the country.

High in the Himalayas, hundreds of climbers were staying put at Mount Everest base camp, where a huge avalanche after the earthquake killed 17 people in the single worst disaster to hit the world’s highest mountain.

Rescue teams, helped by clear weather, used helicopters to airlift scores of people stranded at higher altitudes, two at a time. In Sindhupalchowk, about a three-hour drive northeast of Kathmandu, the death toll had reached 875 people and was expected to rise. In Dhading, close to the quake’s epicenter west of Kathmandu, 241 people were killed.

Survivors spoke of trying to stay flat on the ground while the tremors shook the forested mountains. Some were stuck for hours afterwards, unable to move because of injuries. “There is nobody helping people in the villages. People are dying where they are,” said AB Gurung, a Nepali soldier who was waiting in Dhading district for an Indian helicopter that had gone to his village Darkha. In Kathmandu, sick and wounded people were lying out in the open, unable to find beds in the devastated city’s hospitals. Surgeons set up an operating theater inside a tent in the grounds of Kathmandu Medical College.

Across the capital and beyond, exhausted families laid mattresses out on streets and erected tents to shelter from rain.

People queued for water dispensed from trucks, while the few stores still open had next to nothing on their shelves. Humanitarian agencies said materials such as plastic sheets, dry food rations, clean water and blankets were being dispatched to affected populations in the city and outside.

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