KATHMANDU: Planeloads of aid material, doctors and relief workers from neighboring countries began arriving Sunday in Nepal, a poor Himalayan nation reeling from a powerful earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people, and destroyed infrastructure, homes and historical buildings.
The Kathmandu-based National Emergency Operation Centre put the toll in Nepal at 2,352 and said a further 6,239 had been injured.
The disaster's international reach was also apparent on the slopes of Mount Everest where an avalanche triggered by Saturday's earthquake buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 17 people died there and 61 were injured.
Google executive Dan Fredinburg was one of the climbers to have been confirmed as having been killed.
A powerful 6.7 magnitude aftershock struck the earthquake-devastated region on Sunday as relief efforts are under way, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said, with climbers reporting the tremor triggered more avalanches on Mount Everest.
The latest quake struck northeast of Kathmandu near the border with China at a depth of 10 kilometres, the USGS said.
Climber Jim Davidson said he felt the aftershock at Camp One on Everest. “Just had our biggest aftershock yet here at C1 on Everest. Smaller than original quake but glacier shook & avalanches,” he tweeted.
These aftershocks are the most powerful to have been registered so far.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which was centered outside Kathmandu, the capital, was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in over 80 years. It destroyed swaths of the oldest neighborhoods of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China's region of Tibet and Pakistan.
By Sunday morning, authorities said at least 1,970 people had died, all but 60 of them in Nepal. At least 721 of them died in Kathmandu alone, and the number of injured nationwide was upward of 5,000.
Tens of thousands of Nepalese who spent the night under a chilly sky were jolted awake by strong aftershocks Sunday.
“There were at least three big quakes at night and early morning. How can we feel safe? This is never-ending and everyone is scared and worried,” said Kathmandu resident Sundar Sah.
"I hardly got much sleep. I was waking up every few hours and glad that I was alive."
As day broke, rescuers aided by international teams set out to dig through rubble of buildings ─ concrete slabs, bricks, iron beams, wood ─ to look for survivors.
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Most areas were without power and water. The United Nations said hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded, and running out of emergency supplies and space to store corpses.
In the Kalanki neighborhood, police rescuers tried to extricate a man lying under a dead person, both of them buried beneath a pile of concrete slabs and iron beams. His family members stood nearby, crying and praying. Police said the man's legs and hips were totally crushed.
“We are digging the debris around him, cutting through concrete and iron beams. We will be able to pull him out but his body under his waist is totally crushed. He is still alive and crying for help. We are going to save him,” said police officer Suresh Rai.
The quake will likely put a huge strain on the resources of this impoverished country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world.
The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing. With Kathmandu airport reopened, the first aid flights began delivering aid supplies.
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The first to respond were Nepal's neighbors ─ India, China and Pakistan, all of which have been jockeying for influence over the landlocked nation.
Still, Nepal, a Hindu majority nation, remains closest to India with which it shares deep political, cultural and religious ties.
Indian air force planes landed Sunday with 43 tons of relief material, including tents and food, and nearly 200 rescuers, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said.
The planes were returning to New Delhi with Indian nationals stranded in Kathmandu. More aid flights were planned for Sunday.
A 62-member Chinese search and rescue team also arrived Sunday. Pakistan prepared to send four C-130 aircraft, carrying a 30-bed temporary hospital comprising, army doctors, surgeons and specialists.
An urban search and rescue team was also sent with ground penetrating radars, concrete cutters and sniffing dogs.
Pakistan was also sending 2,000 ready-to-eat meal packs, water bottles, medicines, 200 tents, 600 blankets and other necessary items. When the earth first shook, residents fled homes and buildings in panic as walls tumbled, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets.
After the chaos of Saturday ─ when little organized rescue and relief was seen ─ there was more order on Sunday as rescue teams fanned out across the city.
Workers were sending out tents and relief goods in trucks and helicopters, said disaster management official Rameshwar Dangal. He said government and private schools have been turned into shelters.
Mukesh Kafle, the head of the Nepal Electricity Authority, said power has been restored fully to main government offices, the airport and hospitals. But the damage to electricity cables and poles was making it difficult to restore power to many parts of the country, which has long been plagued by blackouts anyway.
“We have to make sure all cables are secure before turning the power on. Our technicians have been working round the clock,” he said.
Officials said an avalanche after the quake swept the Everest base camp, flattening tents and killing at least 17 climbers and guides and injuring 61.
Their nationalities were not immediately known. An unknown number were missing.
The USGS said the quake's epicenter was Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, in Gorkha district.
Roads to the Gorkha district were blocked by landslides, hindering rescue teams, said chief district official Prakash Subedi.
Teams are trekking on foot through mountain trails to reach remote villages, and helicopters would also be deployed, he said by telephone.
Destruction of infrastructure and heritage sites
The aid group World Vision said in a statement that remote mountain village communities including in Gorkha were totally unprepared for the level of destruction caused by the earthquake.
Villages near the epicenter “are literally perched on the sides of large mountain faces and are made from simple stone and rock construction. Many of these villages are only accessible by 4WD and then foot, with some villages hours and even entire days' walks away from main roads at the best of times,” the group's local staff member, Matt Darvas, said in the statement.
He said he is hearing that many of the villages may have been completely buried by rock falls. “It will likely be helicopter access only for these remote villages,” he said.
While most modern buildings in Kathmandu remained standing after the quake, it brought down several buildings in the center of the capital as well as centuries-old temples and towers.
Among them was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, a Kathmandu landmark built by Nepal's royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800s and a Unesco-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.
The Kathmandu Valley is listed as a World Heritage site. The Buddhist stupas, public squares and Hindu temples are some of the most well-known sites in Kathmandu, and now some of the most deeply mourned.
The head of the United Nations cultural agency, Irina Bokova, said in a statement that Unesco was ready to help Nepal rebuild from “extensive damage, including to historic monuments and buildings of the Kathmandu Valley."
Nepali journalist and author Shiwani Neupane tweeted: “The sadness is sinking in. We have lost our temples, our history, the places we grew up."
Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.