NEPAL QUAKE | FOREIGNERS

China and India step up evacuation

Each has flown at least 2,000 citizens home, with thousands more waiting

BESIDES extending disaster relief aid to their quake-stricken neighbour Nepal, China and India have each flown at least 2,000 of their nationals home from the Himalayan nation since last Saturday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular media briefing yesterday that 1,000 Chinese nationals returned to China on board seven chartered flights on Sunday. Another eight flights were expected to fly another 1,000 Chinese home yesterday.

"We will ramp up evacuation efforts if necessary," he said.

Four Chinese nationals were killed and 10 others seriously injured in the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck near capital Kathmandu last Saturday. At least 17 people were killed in Tibet.

The powerful temblor and its aftershocks have so far claimed more than 3,700 lives and left another 6,500 people injured.

Some 4,000 Chinese tourists are in Nepal, according to official Chinese statistics. Another 2,000 are working for Chinese enterprises based in Nepal.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China reportedly asked Chinese airlines to prepare more flights to Nepal and to give priority to the transport of passengers and humanitarian aid.

Chinese airlines operate 14 flights daily between China and Nepal.

"Anyone carrying a Chinese passport can board, regardless of whether you have a flight ticket," read notices posted at the Kathmandu airport following the quake, described as Nepal's worst in 81 years.

Ms Wang Danya, 57, a Beijing resident who joined a group tour to Nepal, arrived in south-western Chengdu city on Sunday.

She said the Chinese Embassy contacted her group and arranged for them to return to China within 24 hours of the quake.

"We are relieved that we could count on our motherland in times of crisis," she said on arrival.

India lost more than six dozen people to the quake, which also hit the northern part of the country. It has evacuated more than 2,500 Indians by operating round-the-clock flights, but thousands more are still waiting in Nepal. Army officials said more than 16 sorties have been carried out so far.

Besides evacuation by air, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two northern states bordering Nepal, are sending dozens of buses to Kathmandu and Pokhara to take people home.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi is personally monitoring the situation... We will do whatever it takes," Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament yesterday. "We are also helping foreigners. We have decided to give free visas to those willing to come to India."

Since sending an Indian Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft last Saturday, India has been scaling up its operations. It has deployed more than two dozen aircraft and helicopters to assist in not only evacuation but also rescue and relief efforts.

There are already 10 disaster response teams working in Nepal, with six more to be sent, according to the Indian Home Ministry.

The current evacuation effort is the second in a month for both India and China.

As a result of the crisis in Yemen, the Indian authorities evacuated 4,600 Indians and 1,000 nationals from other countries by air and sea early this month.

China brought some 570 citizens home.

A Chinese naval frigate also helped to evacuate about 225 foreigners, including Singaporeans.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

gnirmala@sph.com.sg