All but one of Israel’s citizens located in Nepal at the time that a massive earthquake shook the nation have been accounted for, as dozens were still waiting to be evacuated on Wednesday.
Or Asraf, a 22-year-old freshly released from the IDF, was the only remaining Israeli who has not shown any signs of life since Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, which has so far claimed the lives of over 5,000 people.
Asraf’s parents remained hopeful on Wednesday, as a rescued Israeli traveler told them she had made contact with Asraf an hour after the earthquake, Channel 2 reported. Later, though, his mother said there had been word about him since before the quake.
Earlier on Wednesday, ten more Israelis were rescued from the Himalayan country’s Langtang National Park north of Kathmandu on the border with Tibet, and taken to a local army base, from which they will be driven to Kathmandu.
Eight more backpackers who were threatened by Nepalese locals were retrieved by a private Israeli search and rescue squad, Ynet reported. There are still 30-40 Israeli backpackers awaiting rescue, according to Israeli officials.
Asraf’s parents were standing in the entrance hall in Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday afternoon as 216 Israelis returned from quake-ravaged Nepal, appealing to the fresh arrivals for any information about her son’s whereabouts.
The 22-year-old was moderately wounded fighting with the IDF in last summer’s Gaza war in Shejiaya. After recovering from his injuries and completing his army service, he went backpacking in Nepal, a popular destination for post-army Israelis, and was slated to return to Israel in July.
His family last heard from him on Friday, and none of those arriving at the airport had any information to offer his mother, who carried a large banner reading “Who has seen Or Asraf?” and stood amid the tearful embraces and joyful reunions of the returning Israelis.
He was last seen in the Langtang region.
His mother told the Ynet news website that Or had a satellite phone on him at the time of the quake, but it did not send out a signal, a development she said was “very troubling.”
“I have a lot of hope. I’m sure that he’ll come back and I’m trying to glean information so that it will be possible to rescue him,” she said.
מי ראה את אור אסרף? pic.twitter.com/Z3nsjyvJcO
— keren savyon (@KerenSavyon) April 28, 2015
Dozens of Israelis remained stranded in hard-to-reach areas, primarily in the remote Langtang region and near Mount Everest, even as Israeli rescue teams managed to extract dozens of Israeli hikers from those regions.
Roi Dermer, a backpacker rescued from the area, told Israel’s Channel 2 that people were dying of their injuries or of the cold right before his eyes because the rescue teams did not get there in time.
He said the local Nepalis were working hard to save lives, contradicting other reports that the locals were growing violent toward backpackers over a lack of food.
In Kathmandu, the Israeli rescue teams completed construction of a field hospital on Wednesday, after an IDF delegation of over 250 doctors landed a day earlier in the Nepalese capital. The team is the largest in manpower of any international aid mission in the disaster area.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said that retrieving the stranded Israelis was the top priority of the Israeli rescue teams.
“The most important task at this moment is to rescue the Israelis who are on Mount Everest and to complete the evacuation of the frozen lakes area,” he told the head of the IDF team, Col. Yoram Laredo. “I have instructed that the possibility of dropping them equipment, food, clothing and means to keep warm, by plane or helicopter, be considered. Send my regards to everyone, good luck and keep up the good work.”
Nepalese police said Wednesday the death toll from the earthquake in the country had reached 5,027. Another 18 were killed on the slopes of Mount Everest, while 61 died in neighboring India, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet.
The disaster also injured more than 10,000, police said, and rendered thousands more homeless. The UN says the disaster has affected 8.1 million people — more than a fourth of Nepal’s population of 27.8 million — and that 1.4 million needed food assistance.
Planes carrying food and other supplies have been steadily arriving at Kathmandu’s small airport, but the aid distribution process remains fairly chaotic, with Nepalese officials having difficulty directing the flow of emergency supplies.
About 200 people blocked traffic in the capital Wednesday to protest the slow pace of aid delivery. The protesters faced off with police and there were minor scuffles but no arrests were made.
Police arrested dozens of people on suspicion of looting abandoned homes as well as causing panic by spreading rumors of another big quake. Police official Bigyan Raj Sharma said 27 people were detained for stealing.
But in a sign that life was inching back to normal, banks in Kathmandu opened for a few hours Wednesday and stuffed their ATMs with cash, giving people access to money.
Thousands of people lined up at bus stations in the capital, hoping to reach their hometowns in rural areas. Some have had little news of family and loved ones since Saturday’s quake. Others are scared of staying close to the epicenter, northwest of Kathmandu.
“I am hoping to get on a bus, any bus heading out of Kathmandu. I am too scared to be staying in Kathmandu,” said Raja Gurung, who wanted to get to his home in western Nepal. “The house near my rented apartment collapsed. It was horrible. I have not gone indoors in many days. I would rather leave than a live a life of fear in Kathmandu.”
Unlike in Nepal’s capital, where most buildings were spared complete collapse, the tiny hamlets clinging to the remote mountainsides of Gorkha District have been ravaged. Entire clusters of homes were reduced to piles of stone and splintered wood. Orange plastic tarps used for shelter now dot the cliff sides and terraced rice paddies carved into the land.
“We are hungry,” cried a woman who gave her name only as Deumaya, gesturing toward her stomach and opening her mouth to emphasize her desperation. Another woman, Ramayana, her eyes hollow and haunted, repeated the plea: “Hungry! We are hungry!”
But food is not the only necessity in short supply out here beyond the reaches of paved roads, electricity poles and other benefits of the modern world. These days, even water is scarce. Communication is a challenge. And modern medical care is a luxury many have never received.
In some heartening news, French rescuers freed a man from the ruins of a three-story Kathmandu hotel more than three days after the quake. Rishi Khanal, 27, said he drank his own urine to survive.
Khanal had just finished lunch at a hotel on Saturday and had gone up to the second floor when everything suddenly started moving and falling. He was struck by falling masonry and trapped with his foot crushed under rubble.
“I had some hope but by yesterday I’d given up. My nails went all white and my lips cracked … I was sure no one was coming for me. I was certain I was going to die,” he told The Associated Press from his hospital bed on Wednesday.
The UN says it is releasing $15 million from its central emergency response fund for quake victims. The funds will allow international humanitarian groups to scale up operations and provide shelter, water, medical supplies and logistical services, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.