After a series of delays, the Israel Defense Forces field hospital in Kathmandu will start treating thousands of those injured in the weekend’s devastating earthquake Wednesday morning, kicking off Israel’s largest ever effort of its kind.
The hospital’s opening will come a day after Israeli teams began search and rescue operations, though they did not find any survivors.
An IDF spokesperson said the hospital, located next to the Nepali military hospital, will be operational by 8:30 a.m. local time and treat some of the thousands of injured Nepalis hurt in the 7.8 magnitude quake, which claimed the lives of over 5,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Nepalese officials expect the death toll to climb to as high as 10,000. Around 8,000 people have been injured while the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected.
The Israeli hospital and crew only landed in Kathmandu Tuesday morning, after a series of strong aftershocks delayed the flight by a day, and soldiers immediately began setting up, said Col. Yoram Laredo, who is heading up the army’s relief effort.
“We landed at dawn here in Kathmandu and immediately unpacked the equipment. As of now we are continuing to get organized, build the field hospital, and see to our other efforts, including the special effort to locate Israelis,” Laredo said in a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday. “Every Israeli who comes to us will have his needs taken care of. I would like to emphasize that we are highly motivated and ready for our task here; we are proud to represent the state and we hope to save lives and achieve results.”
The IDF sent a 230-person team, with approximately 130 medical professionals who will operate the field hospital. The remaining soldiers and reservists have begun search and rescue operations.
Search and rescue units went out on their first missions on Tuesday but did not find any survivors, IDF spokeswoman Libby Weiss said via phone from Kathmandu.
“The field hospital will deal with various types of medical issues that come up, including a surgical department, obstetrics, a laboratory for blood samples, and other emerging medical issues,” said Weiss. “We also have an eye doctor and other types of specialists.”
There will be 60 beds and the capacity to treat at least 200 people per day.
According to Channel 2, the field hospital will be Israel’s largest ever. The army has in the past set up field hospitals in disaster zones in Haiti, the Philippines and Japan following natural disasters.
Medical teams have noted that natural disasters often force women into early labor, which is why an obstetrics department is essential, Weiss said.
In addition to broken bones and internal organ damage, some people rescued from the rubble are also suffering from hypothermia from extended exposure to the elements.
The field hospital is located next to the Nepali military hospital, and the Israeli embassy is coordinating cooperation between the Nepali and Israeli hospitals.
On Tuesday, the search and rescue teams and canine units visited three collapsed buildings to search for survivors.
The IDF search and rescue teams will also try to make contact with the nine Israelis on far-flung treks that still have not made contact with authorities or their parents.
Those not working to search for Israelis will stay in the Kathmandu area. “Much of the area surrounding us is collapsed buildings and the infrastructure greatly compromised, the roads are completely dislodged,” said Weiss.
Weiss added that at least four post-army Israelis who were traveling in Nepal had approached the field hospital to offer their services as volunteers.
Weiss said that the IDF has not set a time limit for how long the field hospital will be operational. In the Philippines Haiyan typhoon in 2013, the IDF field hospital operated for a week and a half, and in the Haiti earthquake in 2010 the hospital operated for three weeks.
IsraAID also sent a second team of 15 search and rescue experts who left Tuesday from Israel.
“The next seven days are crucial if we want to save people still buried under the rubble or stranded in remote locations,” said Eran Magen, IsraAID’s search and rescue leader.
IsraAID’s advance emergency relief team traveled to the outlying area of Gongabu, one of the worst hit areas in the capital. Rescue workers there helped devastated families retrieve bodies from the rubble.
When the second team arrives on Wednesday, both teams will travel to Sindhupalchowk District, one of the worst hit areas in Nepal that has yet to receive almost any aid.
Many rural areas are isolated because the earthquake destroyed some roads. Landslides triggered by aftershocks are blocking even more roads.