Nepal earthquake: Locals still traumatised and fearful of staying indoors

The Nepali capital of Kathmandu woke up to sunny skies on Monday after a night of cold rain, but its people are still traumatised by Saturday's earthquake and fearful of being indoors.

Hundreds crammed into the few buses heading out to rural towns, anxious to return to their home villages to check on their families. Many clambered onto the roofs of the buses.

At the airport, commercial and aid flights landed in a constant stream, creating severe congestion. Planes had to wait in the air and on the ground for parking bays. The international airport's air traffic controllers had to abandon the air control tower, which was considered unsafe, and work out of a room.

In Bhaktapur, a badly hit suburb of the capital famed for its medieval temples and palaces, an army team equipped with shovels wound their way through the narrow gullies, past scattered piles of rubble and ancient buildings with dangerous wide cracks and sagging roofs in imminent danger of collapsing in one of the numerous aftershocks that continue to rock the valley.

Their mission was to find places where people may still be buried in the rubble.

Officials said more than 3,500 people were killed, majority of them in Nepal – making it the quake-prone Himalayan nation’s deadliest disaster in more than 80 years. More than 90 people were killed in neighbouring India and China. More than 6,500 people were reportedly injured in Nepal. 

Asta Kumari Tamratar, 72, and her family had been camping out on the verandah of a house and she said she needed a tent. Up to nine houses in the area had collapsed, she added. Fears and rumours of more earthquakes had prevented them from going into their house since Saturday.  

Electricity remained cut off in most of the capital on Monday. Petrol was in short supply and streets were still relatively free of traffic, with most shops and establishments still shuttered.

The city was still limping, with tens of thousands - and more in the entire valley - still living outdoors.

At the private B&B Hospital known for orthopedic treatment, earthquake patients were being cared for outdoors. Dr J L Baidya, managing director of the hospital, told The Straits Times he was upset that a government official had gone to the hospital on Saturday and appeared to support a groundless rumour.

''He told us they were expecting a magnitude 9 earthquake soon and we should take precautions,'' Dr Baidya said.

When the patients and their relatives heard the official - whom he did not identify - they refused to stay indoors.

As a result, almost all patients had to be moved outdoors, including the car park where an entire operating theatre was set up.

"We had to rig up a makeshift operation theatre in the car park, we had to do basic life saving operations, we had to wheel all the machinery out there, can you imagine?'' Dr Baidya said.

Ironically, he said, the hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) on the third floor was now empty.

Like others in the city, the 250-bed private hospital was operating at capacity. It had some 128 earthquake victims, with the staff doing 24-hour shifts, said registrar Dr Philip Shyam Ranjit.

The hospital had decided to turn back earthquake victims, but it's offering primary care where possible, he said.

The hospital would soon run short of medicines including antibiotics and analgesics, hospital officials said, but there had been no help yet from the government.

"But more than our needs, the problem is this panic,'' Dr Baidya said.

nirmal@sph.com.sg