Wednesday 21 February 2018

Doctors being forced to operate in tents as hospitals overwhelmed

Peter Popham

Hundreds of thousands of people spent a second night out of doors in Kathmandu last night as severe aftershocks continued to terrify people in the Nepalese capital and surrounding areas.

The worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years has killed at least 2,500 people, injured more than 6,000 and reduced several World Heritage sites to rubble. Some of the city's buildings were smashed to pieces, others tilted at crazy angles. Partial collapses exposed living rooms, furniture and belongings stacked on shelves.

The aftershocks forced doctors and staff to move hundreds of patients into the city streets on stretchers and sacks and lay them on the road outside Kathmandu Medical College, where an improvised operating theatre was set up in a tent. Outside the National Trauma Centre hundreds of the injured with fractured and bloody limbs lay in tents made from hospital sheets.

"We only have one operating theatre here," said Dipendra Pandey, an orthopaedic surgeon, who said he had carried out 36 critical operations since the earthquake.

People wandered the streets clutching bedrolls and blankets. Others sat in the street cradling their children, surrounded by plastic bags of belongings. Rescuers, some wearing face masks against the dust, scrambled over mounds of splintered timber and broken bricks looking for survivors.

Care International, the humanitarian agency, warned that the death toll could climb much higher. "Almost everyone has slept outside and they are creating temporary shelters with what they have," said Santosh Sharma, the organisation's emergency response co-ordinator in Kathmandu. "There is no electricity, and soon there will be a scarcity of water."

Out in the countryside the situation was no better. In the farming district of Dhading, 50 miles outside Kathmandu, people camped in the open, the hospital was overflowing, power was off and the shops were closed.

"Many people have lost their homes," said Chandra Lama, an English teacher. "We are waiting to see what the government will do." Deepak Panda, a member of the country's disaster management organisation, said: "We are overwhelmed with rescue and assistance requests from all across the country."

The congested and heavily polluted home to 1.2 million people, the Kathmandu valley sits on an ancient dried-up lake bed whose very soft soil amplifies seismic motion. The epicentre north-west of the city, between Kathmandu and Pokhara, was a mere 12km below the ground and it caused death and destruction as far away as in Bangladesh, Tibet and northern India. The tremors were felt 600km away in Delhi.

But it was in the densely packed narrow lanes of the ancient quarters of Kathmandu, where tens of thousands live in high, narrow, tightly packed buildings, that the impact was most disastrous. With the first and most violent shaking at 11.45am on Saturday, temples and tenements and monuments were thrown to the ground, killing hundreds outright, while survivors ran screaming into the streets. Since then, more than 100 aftershocks have forced hundreds of thousands of people to take shelter in the open, fearing to return to their homes. Some have erected tents while others have spread their bedding on the roads.

"The aftershocks keep coming, so people don't know what to expect," said Sanjay Karki, country head of Mercy Corps. "All the open spaces in Kathmandu are packed with people who are camping outdoors. When the aftershocks come you cannot imagine the fear. You can hear women and children crying." Hundreds of volunteers have been providing food, drinking water and other necessities to people taking shelter out of doors. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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