Tuesday 6 December 2016

Devastation as massive earthquake kills more than 1,400 in Nepal

Tourists, locals trapped as Everest base camp is struck by avalanche

Jason Burke

Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30

Just a week ago, about 50 earthquake and social scientists from around the world came to Kathmandu, Nepal, to figure out how to get this poor, congested, overdeveloped, shoddily built area to prepare better for 'the big one' - a repeat of the 1934 earthquake that leveled this city.

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They knew they were racing the clock, but they didn't know when what they feared would strike.

"It was sort of a nightmare waiting to happen," said seismologist James Jackson, head of the earth sciences department at the University of Cambridge in England. "Physically and geologically what happened is exactly what we thought would happen."

But he didn't expect the massive quake that struck yesterday to happen so soon.

Read more here: Quake overwhelms Nepal's weak healthcare system  

More than 1,400 people were killed in yesterday's earthquake. The earthquake - which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale - wrecked houses, levelled centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches on Mount Everest. At least 18 people were killed on the mountain, and hundreds of tourists and guides are now trapped or buried in snow and ice there as rescue parties struggle to reach them.

People walk past a building that was damaged in an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
People walk past a building that was damaged in an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Debris lie at Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers work to remove debris at the historic Dharahara tower, a city landmark, after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Rescuers look for victims under a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)

One climber, Alex Gavan, tweeted that he had to run for his life after an avalanche struck Everest's base camp and reported that many had died and many more were badly injured. He appealed for urgent help to save those hurt.

Mohan Krishna Sapkota, a government official, also appealed for help for Nepal. "We are facing a tremendous crisis here and it is hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage could be," he said.

The tremor was the worst to hit the landlocked nation, sandwiched between India and China, in more than 80 years. Close to 1,400 people were reported dead in Nepal, north India, China and Bangladesh. Given the scale of the destruction, the death toll is almost certain to rise, said home ministry official Laxmi Dhakal.

Relief efforts were being hampered by a collapse in communications, raising fears that a widespread humanitarian disaster was unravelling across the impoverished Himalayan nation of 28 million.

The Nepalese government last night released an urgent appeal for foreign help, with India sending in military aircraft with medical equipment and relief teams. The earthquake occurred a few minutes before noon and rumbled across the densely populated Kathmandu Valley, rippled through the capital and spread north toward the Himalayas and Tibet and west toward the historical city of Lahore in Pakistan. A magnitude 6.6 aftershock struck an hour later and smaller aftershocks continued to jolt the region for hours.

Residents ran out of buildings in panic when the earthquake struck. Walls tumbled, large cracks opened on streets and walls, towers collapsed and clouds of dust began to swirl all around. "Our village has been almost wiped out," said Vim Tamang, a resident of Manglung, near the epicentre. "Most of our houses are either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking." He said half of the village's population was missing or dead. "All the villagers have gathered in the open area. We don't know what to do."

Indian tourist Devyani Pant was in a Kathmandu coffee shop when "suddenly the tables started trembling and paintings on the wall fell on the ground. I screamed and rushed outside," she said. Later she reported that she could see three bodies of monks who had been trapped in the debris of a collapsed building. "We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped," she said.

At Bir Emergency Hospital, doctors were last night fighting to treat the wounded and save lives of dozens of badly injured victims of the tremor. Gajendra Mani Shah, a doctor, said he was dealing mainly with head traumas and limb injuries from falling rubble. He said the hospital had treated about 400 patients so far and that at least 50 had died. People were lying in rows on mattresses, surrounded by bloodsoaked tissues, and lined the corridors, hooked up to intravenous drips.

Another doctor, Erabesh Gyawali, said he rushed to the hospital after the first tremor hit. He and his wife were riding their scooter when the earthquake struck and were thrown off, narrowly missing being hit by falling rubble.

Pushpa Das, a Kathmandu labourer, was injured when a wall collapsed on him as he ran from his house. "It was very scary. The earth was moving," he told reporters as he waited for treatment outside one hospital. As he spoke, dozens more showed up with injuries, mostly from falling bricks. Kathmandu's international airport was shut down.

Subarna Khadka was bathing when the first tremor happened, but couldn't escape because the earthquake jammed his bathroom door. "I almost lost my hope of life. I was trapped. But my wife rescued me once the shaking got quiet. I could only pray to God for life."

At the main hospital in Kathmandu, volunteers formed human chains to clear the way for ambulances to bring in the injured, while across the city, rescuers scrabbled through the rubble of destroyed buildings, among them ancient, wooden Hindu temples, in search of victims. Last night thousands in Kathmandu were bedding down in the open air after Nepal's national radio warned people to stay outdoors because of the danger that more aftershocks might occur. "Everyone is scared of a repeat," said 29-year-old Rabin Shakya. "I rushed outside when I felt the earthquake. I was terrified. I've stayed outside all day."

On one patch of ground in Kathmandu, three children huddled under a blanket. Ragan Karki (16) said he and his siblings had come there to seek shelter for the night and were waiting for their parents to join them. They had been in their third-floor apartment when the earthquake struck. Ragan's 12-year-old brother, Ryan, added: "I was scared, but I didn't cry."

In the community of Nyakha Chowk, 1,500 residents assembled around a Buddhist temple for the night where dinner was being cooked in two giant pots. "Everyone has made a donation," said Vidho Ratna.

While the extent of the damage and the scale of the disaster are yet to be ascertained, the earthquake is likely to put a huge strain on the resources of this poor country, best known for the highest mountain in the world and its rich Hindu culture. The economy of Nepal is heavily dependent on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.

Among the buildings destroyed by the earthquake was the Unesco-listed Dharahara Tower. The 60m tower was built in 1832 for the Queen of Nepal. Yesterday, all that remained of the lighthouse-like building was a jagged stump just 10m high. Sujata Thapa (22) said he was passing Dharahara when the quake struck. "I stood still. In a few seconds, I saw Dharahara falling down. People were screaming."

The tower was a popular tourist destination and every weekend hundreds of people paid to go up to the viewing platform on its eighth storey. It is not yet clear how many tourists were on the tower when it collapsed, though several bodies were later extracted from the ruins. Video footage also showed people digging through the rubble of the collapsed tower, looking for survivors.

© Observer

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