Israel set to send emergency aid to Nepal after quake kills over 1,200

200 Israelis yet to make contact; dozens of parents of surrogate babies in area; search and rescue teams to head to Himalayas; planes to evacuate Israelis

Nepalese rescue workers and onlookers gather at Kathmandu's Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was severely damaged by an earthquake on April 25, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/PRAKASH MATHEMA)
Nepalese rescue workers and onlookers gather at Kathmandu's Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was severely damaged by an earthquake on April 25, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/PRAKASH MATHEMA)

Israel prepared Saturday to dispatch search and rescue teams and humanitarian aid to Nepal following a massive earthquake which has killed over 1,200 people.

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Israel was to send emergency responders Nepal to help with disaster relief, and the director general of the Foreign Ministry said it was readying humanitarian aid for the disaster stricken country.

The IDF said it would send a rescue team to Nepal Saturday night to assess the scope of aid required.

There were no known Israeli fatalities in the quake in the hours immediately after the disaster, Director-General Nissim Ben-Sheetrit told reporters at a press conference, but the Foreign Ministry was working to get in touch with Israelis in Nepal who were out of communication. One Israeli was reported by his father to have been injured in his legs, and he was being treated at the local Chabad House.

“We are trying to locate Israelis who are disconnected from their families,” he said. According to Ynet, 200 Israelis were out of contact in Nepal after the 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit near the capital of Kathmandu. Some 2,000 Israelis altogether were said to be in Nepal.

Jerusalem was also planning to airlift surrogate mothers bearing Israeli babies to safety, he said. Nepal is a popular destination for Israeli couples to hire surrogates, and Ynet reported that there were dozens of Israeli couples in the country Saturday with at least 24 newborns.

Israeli humanitarian aid group IsraAID also launched an online appeal to raise emergency relief funds for Nepal in the wake of the tremblor, and said it had a disaster team ready to deploy.

The Israeli embassy in Kathmandu opened a situation room and was working to locate Israelis traveling in the country, which is also a popular destination for backpackers.

The building of the Israeli embassy in Kathmandu sustained some damage and embassy staff were operating a situation room from the yard, the Foreign Ministry said, adding that staff were out on foot looking for injured Israelis since roads are blocked.

The father of an Israeli said to have been injured told Ynet that he could not reach his son because of poor reception but knew that he was at Chabad House in Kathmandu with deep cuts on his legs and was awaiting transfer to a hospital.

A person who answered the phone at the Chabad House told Ynet that there was “total chaos” in the house as Israelis congregated there, some with minor injuries. According to the report, they were being treated by other Israelis who trained as IDF medics during their military service.

An IDF search and rescue team searching for the bodies of the victims from the helicopter crash in Romania on July 28, 2010. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
An IDF search and rescue team searching for the bodies of the victims from the helicopter crash in Romania on July 28, 2010. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Saturday’s earthquake killed more than 1,200 people as it ripped through large parts of Nepal, toppling office blocks and towers in Kathmandu and triggering a deadly avalanche that hit Everest base camp.

Officials said at least 1,170 people are known to have died in Nepal, making it the quake-prone Himalayan nation’s worst disaster in more than 80 years.

But the final toll from the 7.8 magnitude quake could be much higher, and dozens more people were reported killed in neighboring India and China.

“The death toll has reached 1,170,” Nepal police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told AFP, adding that rescue efforts were still underway.

Emergency workers fanned out across the Himalayan nation to rescue those trapped under collapsed homes, buildings and other debris.

“Deaths have been reported from all regions except the far west. All our security personnel have been deployed to rescue and assist those in need,” Bam told AFP.

Officials said 10 people were killed when an avalanche buried parts of Mount Everest’s base camp in Nepal where hundreds of mountaineers have gathered at the start of the annual climbing season.

“We don’t have the details yet, but 10 have been reported dead so far, including foreign climbers,” Gyanendra Kumar Shrestha, an official in Nepal’s tourism department, told AFP.

“An avalanche from Mt. Pumori has hit the base camp, burying a part of it,” Shrestha said earlier.

“We are trying to assess how many are injured. There might be over 1,000 people there right now, including foreign climbers and Nepalese supporting staff.”

AFP Nepal bureau chief Ammu Kannampilly, on an assignment to Everest together with a colleague, was among those caught up in the chaos.

“We are both ok…snowing here so no choppers coming,” she said in an SMS on approach to base camp. “I hurt my hand – got it bandaged and told to keep it upright to stop the bleeding.”

Experienced mountaineers said panic erupted at base camp which had been “severely damaged”, while one described the avalanche as “huge”.

“Huge disaster. Helped searched and rescued victims through huge debris area. Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap,” tweeted Romanian climber Alex Gavan from base camp.

But the worst damage was reported in Kathmandu, where the historic nine-story Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among the buildings brought down.

At least a dozen bodies were taken away from the ruins of the 19th-century tower, according to an AFP photographer who saw similar scenes of multiple casualties in other parts of the city.

“It was difficult to breathe, but I slowly moved the debris. Someone then pulled me out. I don’t know where my friends are,” Dharmu Subedi, 36, who was standing outside the tower when it collapsed, said from a hospital bed.

At least 34 people were known to have died in India, including 23 in the eastern state of Bihar, while buildings in the capital New Delhi had to be evacuated.

The United States Geological Survey said the shallow quake struck 77 kilometers (48 miles) northwest of Kathmandu at 0611 GMT, with walls crumbling and families racing outside their homes.

“The walls of houses have collapsed around me onto the road. All the families are outside in their yards huddled together,” an AFP reporter said in Kathmandu.

Another resident, Anupa Shrestha, recounted scenes of panic and mayhem, saying “everything started shaking, everything fell down.”

The quake tore through the middle of highways in the capital and also caused damage to the country’s only international airport which was briefly closed.

Kari Cuelenaere, an official at the Dutch embassy, said the impact had swept the water out of a swimming pool at a Kathmandu hotel where Dutch national day was being celebrated.

“It was horrible, all of a sudden all the water came up out of the pool and drenched everyone, the children started screaming,” Cuelenaere told AFP. “Some parts of the city fell down, there was dust rising… There were many (rescue) helicopters.”

Aftershock tremors could be felt more than two hours after the initial quake.

USGS initially measured the quake at 7.5 magnitude and later adjusted it to 7.8, with a depth of 15 kilometers. It said in a predictor graphic that there was a 17 percent chance the quake could claim more than 100,000 lives.

India dispatched two military transport planes to help with the rescue and relief efforts and there were similar offers from around the region, including Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

“We are in the process of finding more information and are working to reach out to those affected, both at home and in Nepal,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said that two people, including an 83-year-old woman, were killed in the Tibet region.

The earthquake was also felt across large areas of Bangladesh, triggering panic in the capital Dhaka as people rushed out onto the streets.

In the garment manufacturing hub of Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, at least 50 workers were injured after the quake set off a stampede in a garment factory, according to the private Jamuna television.

The area has a history of earthquakes, with a 6.8 magnitude quake that hit eastern Nepal in August 1988 killing 721 people. A magnitude 8.1 quake killed 10,700 people in Nepal and eastern India in 1934.

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