Death toll in Nepal reaches 117 as nearly 1,000 hurt in latest quake
Published 12/05/2015 | 08:44
A major earthquake has hit a remote mountain region of Nepal, killing at least 117 people and triggering landslides and toppling buildings less than three weeks after the Himalayan nation was ravaged by its worst quake in decades.
The magnitude-7.3 quake - centred midway between the capital of Kathmandu and Mount Everest - hit hardest in districts north east of the capital.
It terrified a nation already shell-shocked and struggling after a more powerful quake on April 25 killed more than 8,150 and flattened entire villages, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
Information was slow to reach Kathmandu after the latest tremor but officials expected the death toll to rise as reports arrived of people being buried under rubble, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A US military helicopter carrying six Marines and two Nepalese Army soldiers has also been reported missing during a mission delivering aid to earthquake victims.
So far there have been no indications that the aircraft crashed, US officials said.
Army Col Steve Warren said an Indian helicopter in the air nearby at the time heard radio chatter from the Marine aircraft about a possible fuel problem.
Because of the rugged mountainous terrain, the helicopter could have landed in a low area but the Marines may not be able to get a beacon or radio signal out, he said. US airborne para-rescue forces have rehearsed rescue missions, and are ready to go if needed.
The aircraft is part of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, and the incident is under investigation.
There are about 300 US troops in Nepal assisting with the rescue mission, using a variety of aircraft including three Hueys, four Ospreys and several cargo planes.
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Nepal's Home Ministry reported at least 42 deaths but later lowered the toll to 37. It said at least 1,139 people had been injured in Nepal.
In neighbouring India, at least 16 people were confirmed dead after rooftops or walls collapsed on to them, according to India's Home Ministry. Chinese media reported one death in Tibet.
In Nepal, at least three people were rescued in the capital, while another nine were pulled to safety in the district of Dolkha, the government said.
Rescue helicopters were sent to mountain districts where landslides and collapsed buildings may have buried people, the government said. Home Ministry official Laxmi Dhakal said the Sindhupalchowk and Dolkha districts were the worst hit.
Search parties fanned out to look for survivors in the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Sindhulpalchowk's town of Chautara, which had become a hub for humanitarian aid after the magnitude-7.8 earthquake on April 25, Nepal's worst-recorded quake since 1934.
Nepal was left reeling by the April 25 tremor. The impoverished country appealed for billions of pounds in aid from foreign nations, as well as medical experts to treat the wounded and helicopters to ferry food and temporary shelters to hundreds of thousands left homeless amid unseasonal rains.
The new quake was deeper, coming from a depth of 11.5 miles, compared with the earlier one at 9.3 miles. Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage.
The latest event was followed closely by at least 10 strong aftershocks, according to the US Geological Survey.
Early reports indicated at least two buildings had collapsed in Kathmandu, although at least one had been unoccupied due to damage it sustained during the April 25 quake. Experts say that tremor caused extensive structural damage even in buildings that did not topple, and that many could be in danger of collapse.
Frightened residents in the capital, who had returned to their homes only a few days ago, are again setting up tents outdoors with plans to sleep in empty fields, car parks and on pavements.
Extra police officers were sent to patrol ad-hoc camping areas, while drinking water and extra tents were being provided, according to Kathmandu administrator Ek Narayan Aryal.
Meanwhile, new landslides blocked mountain roads in the district of Gorkha, one of the regions most damaged by the April 25 quake, while previously damaged buildings collapsed with the latest quake.
Residents of the small town of Namche Bazaar, about 35 miles from the epicentre of the new quake and a well-known spot for high-altitude trekkers, said a couple of buildings damaged in the earlier earthquake had collapsed. However, there were no reports of deaths or injuries in the town.
The earth also shook strongly across the border in Tibet, unleashing a landslide that killed one person and injured three, according to China's state broadcaster China Central Television. Two houses also collapsed, CCTV said, quoting the disaster relief headquarters of the regional Tibetan government.
Speaking from Nepal, GOAL’s director in the country Dr Raj Singh described the scene on the ground in Kathmandu as "chaotic".
“People are not permitted to enter buildings at the moment and we have had three aftershocks since the quake, one of which was very pronounced.”
He continued: “From where I am standing, I can see cracks in several buildings and there is a real fear of buildings collapsing."
“We are working as best we can to establish the level of damage, injuries and potential loss of life here in the capital and elsewhere.”
Mr Singh described the moment when the earthquake struck.
“Tables and chairs started to shake violently, doors were opening and closing and people started to panic. We got out as soon as we could and we saw buildings swaying as the shaking continued. The earthquake lasted approximately 30 seconds."
Mr Singh said the challenge for aid groups to support those who were affected by the first earthquake has now become even more daunting and challenging.
“The latest quake will undoubtedly complicate and frustrate this work.”
The quake's epicentre was close to Everest Base Camp, which was evacuated after an avalanche triggered by the April 25 quake killed 18 climbers.
Mountaineers seeking to scale the world's tallest peak have called off this year's Everest season.
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Today's quake, near the Chinese border between the capital, Kathmandu, and Mount Everest, comes less than three weeks after the country was devastated by a quake which killed more than 8,150 people and injured over 17,860.
An official with the International Organisation for Migration said a number of buildings collapsed in the isolated town of Chautara after today's earthquake, with at least four people killed.
IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said a search and rescue team had already begun searching through the wreckage of the little town.
Chautara has become a hub for humanitarian aid in the wake of the April 25 disaster , with dozens of aid workers now based there to send help deeper into the countryside.
Teams from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are conducting assessments in the affected areas, including Dolakha itself.
An additional MSF team is conducting a helicopter assessment in Bhaktapur, east of Kathmandu, while other MSF medical teams are visiting various hospitals in Kathmandu, ready to intervene immediately if necessary.
“This complicates an already precarious situation. There is going to be more trouble accessing the affected areas. MSF is strengthening its emergency operations and re-assessing the needs of those affected by the current earthquake in order to respond accordingly and immediately,” says, Dan Sermand, MSF’s Country Director in Nepal.
Meanwhile Irish NGO Plan Ireland says additional emergency relief for people in Nepal following today's earthquake.
Plan Ireland's Mike Bruce is in Kathmandu and said they are continuing with their operations despite aftershocks.
"The aftershocks continue to happen, people have flooded the streets in Kathmandu. Right now, we are setting out operations outside, waiting for the aftershocks to subside. There have been heavy rains in recent days, spurring on-going fear of landslides and further damage to already affected communities.
"Currently, Plan teams are spread out across Kathmandu valley and several districts in the affected areas – carrying out their distributions and delivery of emergency items to families who have lost their homes and are in temporary shelter," he said.
Plan Ireland has already airlifted emergency relief items provided by the Irish government into isolated, mountainous, and rural areas in parts of central Nepal.
To contribute to Plan Ireland’s emergency appeal go to www.plan.ie or call 1800 829 829. To support GOAL’s response to the earthquakes in Nepal, visit www.goalglobal.org or telephone 01-905 9990.