Three families arrive from Nepal with newborn babies
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Three families arrive from Nepal with newborn babies

Twenty-three more infants born through surrogates set to arrive; 150 Israelis still unaccounted for as death toll passes 3,200

Nepalese people gather near temporary shelters set up in open areas of an Army ground in Kathmandu on April 27, 2015 (Photo credit: Prakash Mathema/AFP)
Nepalese people gather near temporary shelters set up in open areas of an Army ground in Kathmandu on April 27, 2015 (Photo credit: Prakash Mathema/AFP)

Three Israeli families with babies born through Nepalese surrogate mother programs arrived in Israel on Sunday night, following the devastating earthquake in the Himalayan nation on Saturday that killed over 3,200 people. Many more were expected to follow.

Nepal is a major destination for Israeli families seeking surrogate mothers to bear their children. Following Saturday’s disaster, families of 26 babies recently born to Israelis in the Asian nation appealed to the Israeli government to help bring their children to Israel as quickly as possible, citing the newborns’ fragile state and the current harsh conditions in Nepal, which could endanger them.

In light of the situation Interior Minister Gilad Erdan has consented to bring the children into the country before bureaucratic procedures are completed. The newborns are all expected to arrive with Israeli rescue missions in the next few days.

Omri Lanzet, a new father who landed in Israel with his newborn son Yonatan on Sunday night, told Ynet news, “We had a baby just days old with us, and had no heat. The food and the diapers ran out.”

He urged the government to do all it that it could for the other families.

“The babies are the most vulnerable, and some of them were born prematurely. It’s neither the place nor the proper environment for a baby only a few days old,” he said.

On Sunday the Justice Ministry ruled that there was no reason to prevent four Nepalese surrogate mothers who were carrying babies for Israeli couples from evacuating to Israel to escape the destruction wrought by the earthquake.

Israeli parents-to-be had earlier put in a special request that the women be allowed to seek refuge in Israel as authorities in Nepal struggled to cope with the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude quake that shook Kathmandu and the surrounding area.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday that the number of Israelis unaccounted for in Nepal had gone down to 150. There are no news of any Israeli casualties in the earthquake at this time.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was delaying a large emergency aid mission to Nepal on Sunday after aftershocks damaged a runway, hampering efforts to send two jumbo jets loaded with medics and supplies.

Officials were said to be considering whether to wait for repairs or divide the mission between smaller aircraft which could make the landing. A decision was likely to be made on Monday morning, with Haaretz reporting that the flights could be pushed back to Tuesday.

After reports of secondary quakes shaking Nepal, the airlift by two 747 jets was delayed for approximately 12 hours until more was known about the situation on the ground, particularly the condition of the landing strip.

The IDF cited “changing conditions on the ground in Kathmandu” as the reason for the delay of the departure, which had been planned for 8 p.m.

It was the second delay for the relief flights after a morning departure was delayed due to poor weather at the destination.

The IDF team was to focus on search and rescue and on setting up 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.

The death toll from Nepal’s earthquake rose to at least 3,218 on Monday, two days after the massive temblor ripped across the country, leaving tens of thousands shell-shocked and sleeping in streets.

Aid groups received the first word from remote mountain villages — reports that suggested many communities perched on mountainsides were devastated or struggling to cope.

Landslides hindered rescue teams that tried to use mountain trails to reach those in need, said Prakash Subedi, chief district official in the Gorkha region, where the quake was centered.

“Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls,” said Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision. “It will likely be helicopter access only.”

Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake spread horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their attempts to reach the summit. The avalanche killed at least 18 people and injured 61.

In Nepal, the Home Ministry said the toll had risen to 2,789, and ministry official Laxmi Dhakal said that besides rescue efforts, the government was focusing on distributing relief materials. Another 61 people in India died from the quake and several more died in other neighboring countries.

Kathmandu district chief administrator Ek Narayan Aryal said tents and water were being handed out Monday at 10 locations in Kathmandu, but that aftershocks were leaving everyone jittery.

“There have been nearly 100 earthquakes and aftershocks, which is making rescue work difficult. Even the rescuers are scared and running because of them,” he said.

Tens of thousands spent the night sleeping in parks or on a golf course. Others camped in open squares lined by cracked buildings and piles of rubble.

“We don’t feel safe at all. There have been so many aftershocks. It doesn’t stop,” said Rajendra Dhungana, 34, who spent the day with his niece’s family for her cremation at the Pashuputi Nath Temple in Katmandu. “I’ve watched hundreds of bodies burn.”

The capital city is largely a collection of small, poorly-constructed brick apartment buildings. But outside the oldest neighborhoods, many in Kathmandu were surprised by how few modern structures collapsed in the quake.

Aid workers also warned that the situation could be far worse near the epicenter. The US Geological Survey said the quake was centered near Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu.

The earthquake was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in more than 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.

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