The Israel Defense Forces said it was delaying a large emergency aid mission to quake-stricken Nepal Sunday, after damage to a runway by aftershocks hampered efforts to send two jumbo jets loaded with medics and supplies.
The Israeli military planned to send 260 trained personnel to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal, which killed more than 2,500 people and leveled large areas of the capital, Kathmandu.
After reports of secondary quakes shaking Nepal, the airlift by two 747 jets was delayed for approximately 12 hours until a picture of the situation on the ground — and in particular the condition of the landing strip — became clearer.
The IDF cited “changing conditions on the ground in Kathmandu” for the delay of the planned 8 p.m. departure time.
It was the second delay for the relief flights, after a morning departure was delayed due to poor weather at the destination.
A strong magnitude-6.7 aftershock rocked Kathmandu early Sunday, shaking buildings and jolting awake thousands of people forced into the street by the massive initial quake.
The IDF team was to focus on search and rescue and the creation of a full field hospital, which will be operational within 12 hours of landing.
When the flight arrives, half the Israeli team will set up the field hospital — including operating rooms, X-ray equipment and pediatric care — to provide emergency medical services to the wounded. The other half will conduct search-and-rescue missions in collapsed buildings.
“Because we will be arriving in a relatively short time, we are hoping to find survivors underneath the rubble, so for this stage the main mission is to save lives,” said Col. Yoram Laredo, who is the commander of the Search and Rescue Corps and the head of the IDF delegation to Nepal.
The search-and-rescue team has 60 members and can operate in three separate locations simultaneously. The IDF delegation rented two Boeing 747s to carry personnel and 95 tons of supplies.
“You are being sent on an important mission,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Laredo Sunday. “This is the real face of Israel — a state that comes to assist those far away at moments like these. Good luck, we are counting on you.”
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner expects Israel’s field hospital to be the first in operation in Nepal. In the past, the IDF has set up field hospitals following natural disasters in Haiti, the Philippines and Japan.
The field hospital will include “pediatric, surgical, internal medicine, neonatal, and radiology departments as well as a maternity ward and an emergency and operating room,” the IDF said in a statement.
It added that the hospital would be able to treat about 200 patients a day.
“This is a large, high-end delegation with a considerable staff, including the 40 doctors and nurses of the field hospital,” Laredo said in the statement.
A separate, private mission organized by three Israeli emergency response organizations — United Hatzalah, ZAKA and F.I.R.S.T — left Tel Aviv for Nepal on Sunday afternoon and aims to stay two to three weeks.
The Israelife Foundation is coordinating a Joint Disaster Response Team comprising of emergency medical personnel from United Hatzalah, SAR specialists from F.I.R.S.T and recovery teams from ZAKA.
Along with search-and-rescue operations, the mission will provide basic medical care to far-flung villages near the quake’s epicenter whose health clinics are either destroyed or saturated with wounded. IsraAid, which has sent aid missions to 28 countries, and Magen David Adom are also sending delegations.
Magen David Adom’s first plane left early Sunday morning with medical supplies and baby formula, and arrived in Nepal at 10:30 a.m.
MDA director Eli Bean said the paramedics went straight to the Chabad House to create a first aid station. Both the IDF and MDA are concentrating their efforts in Kathmandu, which has the highest concentration of injuries. There are 15 paramedics and doctors on the MDA mission, according to MDA spokesman Zaki Heller.
Tevel B’Tzedek, an Israeli nonprofit that has worked in Nepalese villages, bringing Jewish volunteers to assist with agriculture and education, is acting as a facilitator for the many Israeli aid groups flying to Nepal to help.
“We are in a unique position to help, because we have so many staff who know Kathmandu really well and speak Nepali, as well as Nepali staff,” said Micha Odenheimer, the director of Tevel B’Tzedek. The organization currently has long-term volunteer programs in Nepal and Burundi. Tevel B’Tzedek has about 50 volunteers and Israeli staff and about 50 Nepali staff. None of the staff or participants were injured, though 14 volunteers and two staff members are working in a village named Manegau in the Kabri district, which was heavily damaged.
“There’s a lot of trust in Nepal for Israel,” Odenheimer added. “Israel has a very good name, and [the countries] are really old friends. Israel is very highly thought of by the Nepali army, which is crucial. Israel has a good advantage being able to integrate into the Nepali efforts.” Odenheimer added that the Israeli army gave a lot of social and military assistance in the 1960s, after Nepal recognized the State of Israel.
Inbar Eron, part of the Israeli staff of Tevel B’Tzedek in Manegau, who has been in the country for a year and a half, was with a group of 18 Israeli volunteers and two staff members. “Everyone is outside their homes, because there’s not a lot left of the homes,” she wrote in a WhatsApp message to The Times of Israel. “We are doing okay ahead of our second night out in the fields, although now it just started a crazy downpour.” She said that for the time being they are staying in their village, an hour and a half outside of Kathmandu, because there is no possibility of going anywhere else.
On Sunday evening, IsraAID plans to send an initial disaster team to determine needs and supplies ahead of a larger emergency response team. IsraAID will also build child-friendly spaces for children wandering the streets.
Dozens of aftershocks have shaken the area since the initial 7.8-magnitude quake on Saturday at 11:56 a.m. local time, forcing residents to stay on the streets rather than return home. Thunderstorms are predicted for the coming week, making temporary shelter a priority.
JTA contributed to this report.