Death toll exceeds 4,000 as aftershocks terrify survivors
Number of victims could soar in rural areas
Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30
The scale of the suffering inflicted by Nepal's earthquake became clearer yesterday when the official death toll rose above 4,000.
At first, the home affairs ministry in Kathmandu believed that about 400 people had been killed by the tremor, which struck on Saturday.
But more areas have since become accessible, and the death toll has risen accordingly. Last night, the government said that 4,010 people had been killed in Nepal; at least another 112 have died in India and China.
Tens of thousands of people are sleeping in the streets of the capital, Kathmandu. Some have lost their homes; others are too afraid to sleep indoors because of the aftershocks that still rock the city, two days after the earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale.
An international relief effort is now beginning. One urgent priority is to provide shelter for the people rendered homeless. Oxfam is planning to help 350,000 people with clean water, sanitation and shelter. The aid agency said that it would provide these services at 16 open-air sites in Kathmandu.
Jane Cocking, Oxfam humanitarian director, said: "We need to act fast. The damage to the infrastructure is huge and is making delivering aid quickly really challenging; we are now beginning to reach outside the centre of the Kathmandu Valley and looking into the need of more remote areas."
Lila Mani Poudyal, the Nepali government's chief secretary, urged the international community to send every form of aid, starting with shelter.
"We are appealing for tents, dry goods, blankets, mattresses, and 80 different medicines that we desperately need now," he told journalists. "We don't have the helicopters that we need or the expertise to rescue the people trapped."
As for rescuing those trapped beneath the wreckage and treating the injured, Mr Poudyal said that Nepal needed teams of orthopaedic doctors, nerve specialists, anaesthetists, surgeons and paramedics. "We are appealing to foreign government to send these specialised and smart teams," he added.
Efforts to clear the wreckage from the streets of Kathmandu have not yet begun, said Mr Poudyal, because labourers were still protecting their own families.
The epicentre of the earthquake was in Gorkha district, about 100km west of Kathmandu. Roads to the area have been damaged and blocked by landslides, making overland access extremely difficult.
Udav Prashad Timalsina, an official in Gorkha district, said 70pc of the homes in some villages were destroyed. "There are people who are not getting food and shelter," he said.
So far, the confirmed death toll in Gorkha was 223, but Mr Timalsina said the number was likely to rise "because there are thousands who are injured".
Suresh Subedi (30), a doctor from Kathmandu who is currently training in America, returned home yesterday to get married. His family have cancelled their plan for a celebration on Thursday.
"I heard about the earthquake while on duty at my hospital," said Mr Subedi. "While my fiancée was quick to get back to me to say that she was OK, it took a few hours to get through to my family and that was a very anxious time."
He added: "Because of what's happened, it wouldn't be appropriate to have a party, so we'll give some of the money we would have spent to charity. We're lucky really. The front of my fiancée's family house collapsed, so it's fortunate nobody died."
Along a small river that runs by the city's international airport, funeral pyres burned as families bade farewell to their dead. Sangita Sedhai (32) had flown back from Canada and arrived to news that her family was safe. "The buildings we can rebuild," she said. "The people - no."
Another Nepali who rushed home after the earthquake was Binod Shrespha, a 35-year-old clothes merchant who had been in China. Having been unable to contact his mother, he feared the worst. "I call and I call - no receive," he said.
As the houses swayed in Bhaktapur on the outskirts of Kathmandu, everyone ran but some not fast enough, said Rajesh Lohala, a shopkeeper. "It was terrible, really terrible," he said. "I have never seen such a big quake.
"It started to sway, and went on for nearly 10 minutes. We started to run together to the main square. My house completely collapsed, but only after we luckily got away."
His cousin, Marsha Lohala (50), who lived next door, was not so lucky, his house collapsing immediately, before he had a chance to run. The excavators pulled his body clear on Sunday.
Bhaktapur lies 50km from the epicentre. Further up in the hills, accessible only by helicopter, whole villages have been flattened.
The extent of the deaths there is still unknown, as aid workers started reaching the affected areas yesterday. In the remoter valleys, the repeated landslides brought boulders, not just snow as with the Everest avalanche, crashing down on people's heads.
"There are still landslides now," said Thomas Bornschein, a German trekker who had been circling Mount Manaslu, one of the world's highest peaks, and was brought out by helicopter last night.
"We were on the edge of a canyon, and the rocks just kept falling, falling, falling for ever. We were very lucky."
At 9.45pm last night, another minor aftershock rocked the capital. The tremor was not powerful, but people traumatised by the memory of Saturday's disaster still fled outside. (© Daily Telegraph, London)