News Asia-Pacific

Sunday 20 August 2017

Nepal quake death toll passes 5,000

Press Association

A man has been speaking of how he survived for three days in the rubble of a collapsed hotel in Nepal, as the confirmed death toll from the earthquake passed 5,000.

Police in Kathmandu said 4,989 people have died and another 10,260 were injured in Nepal. Another 61 were killed in neighbouring India and Bangladesh, and China reported 25 dead in Tibet.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake, centred just outside Kathmandu, also triggered an avalanche that killed at least 18 people at Everest base camp.

Survivor Rishi Khanal was at a hotel in the Nepalese capital when the quake hit.

The 27-year-old said he had just finished lunch and had gone up to the second floor when everything suddenly started to move and fall apart.

He was struck by falling masonry and trapped with his foot crushed under rubble.

"I had some hope but by yesterday I'd given up. My nails went all white and my lips cracked ... I was sure no one was coming for me. I was certain I was going to die," he said from from his hospital bed.

He was surrounded by dead people and a terrible smell, but he kept banging on the rubble all around him and eventually attracted a French rescue team who extracted him after an operation lasting many hours.

By the time he was pulled out, he had been trapped for 82 hours.

"There was no sound going out, or coming in. I kept banging against the rubble and finally someone responded and came to help. I hadn't eaten or had anything to drink so I drank my own urine.

"It feels good. I am thankful."

Aid agencies including GOAL are currently rushing emergency supplies to some of the worst-affected regions around the capital of Kathmandu.

“GOAL is now moving essential provisions such as emergency relief kits, shelter materials and hygiene kits into these areas as rapidly as possible,” said GOAL’s Emergency Co-ordinator, Darren Hanniffy.

“These villages are extremely difficult to access and spread across a vast geographical landscape so logistics and distribution will be our biggest challenge. We are drawing on the assets of GOAL’s operation in India to circumnavigate the log-jam in Kathmandu by bringing supplies over the border from India and into these areas.

“We need to reach these people as quickly as possible. While the situation in Kathmandu remains extremely serious, people there are currently being reached with aid; the same cannot be said for those stranded in outlying villages.”

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), who currently has 61 staff members in Nepal, said that the in-patient department at Gorkha District Hospital is destroyed.

"A truck carrying a rapid surgical intervention kit left Kathmandu for Ghorka (200km north-east) as the road has been re-opened. The surgical team has arrived to Ghorka to set up and begin responding to surgical needs from the area surrounding Ghorka," said the MSF spokesperson.

"The water and sanitation situation is concerning, with people having limited access to clean drinking water and the public toilets overflowing. In terms of medical needs at this camp, currently a team of doctors from Bir hospital (located opposite the camp) have set up a makeshift consultation area and are managing primary health care needs." 

An MSF team returned to a makeshift camp in Bhaktapur (40km east of Kathmandu) yesterday, where more than 1500 people are staying.

"They are facing a difficult situation in terms of water and sanitation, with people collecting rain water and lacking latrines. They have yet to receive assistance and have either lost their homes in the earthquake or are too scared to move back to their homes in case of aftershocks."

MSF is looking into the water and sanitation situation in the camp urgently. The team also donated dressing and first aid materials to the hospital in Bhaktapur.

The death toll in Nepal now stands at more than 5,000, while more than 10,000 people have been injured. There are warnings that the number of deaths could rise to 10,000 once rescue teams reach remote regions.

Meanwhile, the UN estimates that as many as eight million of Nepal’s 28 million people have had their lives disrupted by the earthquake.

Those who wish to donate to GOAL’s Nepal Earthquake relief effort can do so by visiting the GOAL website on www.goalglobal.org

Meanwhile, police in Nepal have arrested more than 30 people on suspicion of looting abandoned homes as well as causing panic by spreading rumours of another big quake.

Police official Bigyan Raj Sharma said 27 were detained for stealing from homes whose owners had moved out following Saturday's quake.

The aftershocks have waned but people are still anxious, many preferring to stay out in the open. Mr Sharma said four people were arrested for spreading false rumours of an impending quake through social media and text messages.

Meanwhile, the first aid shipments reached a hilly district near the epicentre of the earthquake, the UN food agency said, and distribution of food and medicine will start today, four days after the quake struck.

It will take time for the aid to reach survivors in remote communities who have been cut off by landslides, warned Geoff Pinnock, a World Food Programme emergencies officer.

"It doesn't happen overnight," said Mr Pinnock from the village of Majuwa, 16 miles downhill from Gorkha town, a staging area for relief efforts to areas worst-hit by the quake.

Nearby, five cargo trucks filled with rice, cooking oil and sugar stood on a grassy field fringed with banana and acacia trees beneath the Himalayas, waiting for a helicopter carry the supplies to remote villages.

Soon, the UN food agency is expected to deliver shipments of high-energy food biscuits to areas without enough water for cooking, Mr Pinnock said.

In Kathmandu about 200 people blocked traffic to protest over the slow pace of aid delivery.

The protesters faced off with police and there were minor scuffles but no arrests were made.

One protester said: "We are hungry, we haven't had anything to drink. We haven't been able to sleep. I have a seven-year-old child who is sleeping in the open. It's getting cold and people are getting pneumonia."

He accused the government of not doing enough.

The UN said the disaster had affected 8.1 million people - more than a quarter of Nepal's population of 27.8 million - and that 1.4 million need food assistance.

"Under normal circumstances, a government would have the capacity to respond to maybe 10, or 20, or 30,000 people in need. But if you're looking at 8 million, as we are here, you need a bit of time to scale everything up," a spokesman said.

Officials and foreign aid workers who have rushed to Nepal are struggling against stormy weather, poor roads and a shortage of manpower and funds to get assistance to the needy. Yesterday, the district managed to coordinate 26 helicopter trips to remote villages to evacuate 30 injured people before a major downpour halted the effort.

"We need 15,000 plastic tarps alone. We cannot buy that number," said Mohan Pokhran, a disaster management committee member. Only 50 volunteer army and police officers are distributing food and aid for thousands in the immediate vicinity, he said.

"We don't have nearly enough of anything," Mr Pokhran said.

In Kathmandu, thousands of people are lining up at bus stations, hoping to reach their home towns in rural areas. Some have had little news of family and loved ones since the quake. Others are scared of staying close to the epicentre, north-west of Kathmandu.

More tragedy stuck yesterday as a mudslide and avalanche struck near the village of Ghodatabela and 250 people were feared missing, district official Gautam Rimal said. Heavy snow had been falling, and the ground may have been loosened by the quake.

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