Tens of thousands of Nepalese who spent the night under a chilly sky were jolted awake by strong aftershocks Sunday, and rescuers aided by international teams cleared rubble in search of survivors after a powerful earthquake killed at least 1,865 people across the Himalayan region.
The death toll continued to climb as more reports came in from far-flung areas, with 1,805 in Nepal alone, said Home Ministry official Laxmi Dhakal, and at least 4,718 injured. But the overall toll was expected to be much higher, he said.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which originated outside the capital, Kathmandu, was the worst tremor to hit the poor South Asian nation in over 80 years. It was strong enough to be felt all across the northern part of neighboring India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan, where a total of 60 people died.
A senior trekking guide said at least 17 people had been killed after an avalanche triggered by Nepal’s massive earthquake slammed into a section of the Mount Everest mountaineering base camp. Another 61 people were injured.
Most of the area were without power and water Sunday, but with Kathamandu airport reopened, first aid flights began delivering aid supplies. Workers were sending out tents and relief goods in trucks and helicopters, said disaster management official Rameshwar Dangal.
In Israel, the IDF and aid organizations readied to send rescuers, paramedics and emergency supplies, while the Foreign Ministry worked to locate dozens of Israelis still unaccounted for.
An advance team took off from Israel just after midnight to assess needs. A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the advance team “will land near the affected zone and make its preparations until it becomes possible to land in Nepal.”
The second flight was planned to include a team of 240 soldiers from the Home Front Command, who plan on working for at least the next two weeks in aiding rescue and recovery efforts for locals and Israelis there, according to Ynet news.
Besides offering aid to Nepal, the delegation will also provide Israelis “the means necessary to return to Israel”, the statement added.
Separate flights of other aid organizations were also planned from Israel
A statement from Magen David Adom said an aircraft from Israel with equipment and professionals would depart early Sunday to provide immediate help and set up base for further delegations.
Private Israeli aid group IsraAid said Saturday it was preparing a team to go to Nepal, and Israeli rescue groups Zaka and United Hatzala also planned to send delegations of medics Sunday morning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala Saturday night and promised medical assistance and aid to finding and rescuing victims after the quake.
He and President Reuven Rivlin also sent their condolences to Nepal over the disaster.
“Our thoughts and hearts go out to the people of Nepal dealing with this awful disaster, and with our loved ones who are in distress. The State of Israel is reaching out to help the search and rescue of the many victims,” Rivlin said in a statement.
No Israelis were known to be among the dead, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday evening, but reports listed dozens still unaccounted for in the Himalayan country popular with post-army backpackers, and many sustained light injuries.
A number of families in Israel took to Facebook and WhatsApp in an attempt to find information on loved ones, as officials reported poor communication lines in the country in the wake of the disaster, amid persisting aftershocks.
The Chabad house in Kathmandu, which was lightly damaged, reported that hundreds of Israelis had turned to the group for refuge following the earthquake.
““We’re still gathering the names of the missing, and we’re trying to get in touch with everyone as urgently as possible,” Chani Lifshitz, who runs the center with her Husband Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz, told the Chabad.org website. “Until now, we’ve taken care of a number of injured on the couches of the Chabad House. The main work now is to gather all the names of the people, the people who are in Katmandu, the people who are in the mountains. We hope to report only good news.”
As the quake hit Saturday afternoon, residents fled homes and buildings in panic. Walls tumbled, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets and walls. Clouds of dust began to swirl all around.
Within hours of the quake, hospitals had filled up with hundreds of injured people, and by Sunday, their numbers swelled to nearly 5,000. Many survivors were brought to hospitals by friends and relatives in motorized rickshaws, flatbed trucks and cars. Residents used their bare hands, crowbars and other tools to dig through rubble and rescue survivors.
More than two dozen aftershocks jolted the area after the first quake, which struck just before noon Saturday, and continued into Sunday. At the time, Shrish Vaidya, who runs an advertising agency, was in his two-story house outside Kathmandu with his parents.
“It is hard to describe. The house was shaking like crazy. We ran out and it seemed like the road was heaving up and down,” Vaidya, 46, told The Associated Press. “I don’t remember anything like this before. Even my parents can’t remember anything this bad.”
Once the first shaking stopped, Vaidya thought his family could return indoors by evening. But the jolts kept coming, and they felt safer outdoors.
“It’s cold and windy so we are all sitting in the car listening to the news on FM radio,” he said. “The experts are saying it’s still not safe to go back inside. No one can predict how big the next aftershock will be.”
So the family ate dinner outside with the headlights of their car providing light. Vaidya was grateful his wife and 10-year-old son were on holiday in the U.S.
In his largely affluent neighborhood of low-rise, sturdy homes in suburban Kathmandu the damage was relatively light. In other parts of the city where the buildings are older and poorly built people were not as lucky.
Forecasts called for rain and thunder showers Sunday and the temperatures were in the mid-50s (14 Celsius), cold enough to make camping outside uncomfortable.
Thousands of people spent the night at Tudikhel, a vast open ground in the middle of Kathmandu, just next to the old city that is lined with historic buildings and narrow lanes. Now it is in ruins.
“We hardly slept through the night. It was cold and it rained briefly and it was uncomfortable, but I am glad I brought my family out to the open,” said Ratna Singh, a vegetable vendor who was cuddled under a blanket with his wife and son.”
“At least I knew my family were safe. Every time the ground shook at night, I thanked god my family were there with me and safe. I don’t think I am going to be sleeping inside the house anytime soon. We are all petrified.”
People lay on plastic sheets or cardboard boxes, wrapped in blankets. Mothers kept their children warm; some lit fire with whatever wood they could find. Most were eating instant noodles and cookies.
Indian air force planes landed 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 who were stranded in Kathmandu. More aid flights were planned for Sunday.
Hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded, running out of room for storing dead bodies and running out of emergency supplies, the United Nations said in a statement.
“The reports of the devastation are still coming in and the numbers of people killed, injured and affected by this earthquake continue to rise,” UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said. “It is clear that very many lives have been lost. There has also been significant damage to Nepal’s irreplaceable cultural heritage.”
The quake will likely put a huge strain on the resources of this poor country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world, and its rich Hindu culture. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.
A mountaineering guide, Ang Tshering, said an avalanche after the quake swept base camp where expeditions were preparing to scale Everest, flattening tents and killing at least 17 climbers and guides and leaving at least 61 injured and missing and others cut off. Their nationalities were not immediately known.
Google executive Dan Fredinburg was the only climber killed to have been identified so far.
Lawrence You, director of privacy at Google, said Fredinburg was with three other Google employees, who all survived. He added that Google.org was contributing $1 million to the response efforts.
Experienced mountaineers said panic erupted at base camp, which has 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.
Gyanendra Kumar Shrestha, an official in Nepal’s tourism department, told AFP: “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 an approach to base camp. “I hurt my hand — got it bandaged and told to keep it upright to stop the bleeding.”
Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a Dane who was climbing the Everest with a Belgian, Jelle Veyt, said on his Facebook page that they were at Khumbu Icefall , a rugged area of collapsed ice and snow close to base camp at 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) when the earthquake hit.
“Right now, it is pretty chaotic and we try to help those injured,” Danish climber Carsten Lillelund Pedersen said on his Facebook page.
Norwegian climber Teodor Glomnes Johansen said that people at base camp were working on saving lives.
“All those who are unharmed organize help with the rescue efforts. Men, women and Sherpas are working side by side. The job right now is to assist the doctors in the camp here,” he told Norway’s VG newspaper.
The US Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 7.8. It said the quake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time (0611 GMT) at Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu. Its depth was only 11 kilometers (7 miles), the largest shallow quake since the 8.2 temblor off the coast of Chile on April 1, 2014.
The shallower the quake the more destructive power it carries.
A magnitude 7 quake is capable of widespread and heavy damage while an 8 magnitude quake can cause tremendous damage. This means Saturday’s quake – with the same magnitude as the one that hit San Francisco in 1906 – was about 16 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in 2010.
The quake occurred at the boundary between the two pieces, or plates, of Earth’s crust, one of which supports India to the south and the other Eurasia to the north. The Indian plate is moving at 45 millimeters (1.7 inches) a year under the Eurasian plate, and this results in earthquakes once every 500 years on an average, said Marin Clark, a geophysicist at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
So the quake was “definitely not a surprise,” she said. Over millions of years, such quakes have led to the uplift of the Himalayas. Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.
The power of Saturday’s tremors brought down several buildings in the center of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers.
Among them was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, one of Kathmandu’s landmarks 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.
Hundreds of people buy tickets on weekends to go up to the viewing platform on the eighth story, but it was not clear how many were up there when the tower collapsed. Video footage showed people digging through the rubble of the tower, looking for survivors.
The Kathmandu Valley is listed as a World Heritage site and is a collection of seven locations around Nepal’s capital that reflect the country’s rich religious history. 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 U.N. 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.”
AFP contributed to this report