Ministry still trying to contact five Singaporeans, as first batch arrives home

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is still trying to contact five Singaporeans in Nepal out of the more than 200 Singaporeans that have registered with the ministry.

"We don't know the situation they are in but we hope they are well," said Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs.

"We'll work as hard as we can to contact these five people and get them out of Nepal."

For the rest of those who have been contacted, efforts are already under way to get them out of Nepal, with the first batch of 74 Singaporeans and permanent residents landing at Paya Lebar Air Base in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

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I thought I should share the photos of joy and relief as families and friends of those stranded by the Nepal earthquake...

Posted by Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The plane carrying them was the first of two Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130s to arrive back from Kathmandu International Airport at around 12.45am.

The second RSAF plane was understood to have departed the airport at 9pm on Tuesday and will be carrying on board 15 passengers.

About 100 family and friends were gathered at the air base yesterday and greeted those returning with hugs and cheers.

One of them was Madam Emily Chan, 35, who was present to welcome her sister who was returning from a trekking trip in Nepal with her two friends. The administrative executive said that she had spent many sleepless nights waiting for her sister, Ms Chan Yee Bei, 24, to return.

"We couldn't sleep and just kept trying ways to contact her until we finally heard from her on Sunday. We are very relieved that she is back home safely," said Madam Chan.

Another Singaporean who returned on Wednesday was operations executive Lim Kun Jie, 26, who had planned to trek at Mount Everest when he had arrived last Saturday. "I actually arrived half-an-hour before the quake happened so I didn't even get to begin my trek," he said.

When asked, he described the situation at Kathmandu Airport as chaotic, as many people were waiting and even queuing up outside the airport just to buy a ticket to get out of Kathmandu.

"People even camped overnight in the airport grounds itself. It was partly because the airport ground itself is actually (an) open space so many people stayed there as it was the safest place to be," he said.

"I was feeling very scared as well as I was worried about how we could quickly get on the next flight and also, experiencing an earthquake was the first for me."

One of those who returned was retiree Wong CC, who is in his 60s. Mr Wong who returned home from a pilgrimage trip with his wife said that he was glad to be home.

"There many lessons to be learnt. We learnt how to be patient and how not to take things for granted," said Mr Wong. "We are glad to be back. This is home."

Speaking to reporters at the air base, Mr Masagos also announced that the Singapore Government will be donating another $150,000 for relief efforts to be disbursed to the Singapore Red Cross. This is on top of the $100,000 that the government had previously donated to the organisation.

"Given the scale of the disaster, as well the call for more help, the Singapore government is pouring in another $150,000 to help our friends in Nepal," he said adding that he was relieved to see the first batch of Singaporeans and permanent residents returning from Nepal.

"They have had an ordeal of four days waiting for something to help them out of Singapore," added Mr Masagos.

Plans to evacuate Singaporeans from quake-hit Nepal were delayed when three RSAF C-130 planes could not land at Kathmandu airport yesterday because of congestion. Two of the RSAF planes were diverted to Kolkata in India. The third C-130, which left Singapore on Sunday night, was re-routed to the Indian city of Patna. All three planes arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday.

The death toll of the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 has exceeded 5,000.

Agence France Presse reported that according to the UN, relief workers face huge challenges in reaching the remote mountain areas worst hit by the earthquake in Nepal, with heavy rains exacerbating the problems.

Around 8,000 people have been injured and the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected by the quake.