Death toll in Nepal could climb to 10,000

Information from remote villages yet to come in, says Nepali PM

FOUR days after a powerful earthquake flattened nearly a quarter of Kathmandu, a city of one million, and possibly devastated scores of rural villages, Nepal is bracing itself for a death toll that may reach 10,000.

Thousands of people packed buses in an exodus from Kathmandu to the provinces for the second day yesterday. Most were young men and women with parents in villages that had been destroyed and would take a few hours to a few days to reach in the rugged terrain.

Many foreign search and rescue teams have just arrived, delayed by congestion at Kath- mandu's airport.

A child was recovered alive yesterday from under a big fallen temple bell by rescue workers searching the rubble.

Some 1.4 million people are in need of food, the United Nations said yesterday.

Nepal's Prime Minister Sushil Koirala declared three days of national mourning for victims and thanked donors in a televised address yesterday.

Since Monday, the Nepalese army has taken charge of outdoor camps in the capital crowded with thousands of people too afraid to go home or stay indoors.

A thundershower yesterday brought lashing cold rain, sending people scurrying under tents and tarpaulins.

Civic organisations said there was a shortage of tents.

The head of India's National Disaster Response Force, one of the first organisations to respond to the disaster, told Indian TV channel NDTV that removing rubble from the narrow streets alone could take weeks.

Nepal's Electricity Authority said the power outage would return to normal within four days with help from experts and equipment from India, bringing welcome relief to people in the Kathmandu Valley who have been without power since last Saturday.

Local media reported new casualty figures from towns and villages elsewhere in the valley. About 200 people were reported killed in Langtang village, some 60km north of Kathmandu.

Last Saturday's earthquake triggered an avalanche that wiped out half of the base camp at Mount Everest and killed at least 17 climbers and guides - the worst ever disaster on the mountain.

By yesterday, all climbers had been evacuated by helicopter.

Gorkha district north-west of Kathmandu has been badly damaged.

Mr Bikas Tiwari, a 40-year-old shopkeeper in Kathmandu's Patan area, told The Straits Times that his parents in Gorkha were safe but living under a tarpaulin in the open after the family house collapsed in the quake.

His entire village had been levelled, he said. Apart from a single phone call just after the earthquake, there had been no more news, he added.

Local media reports said many hundreds of people had been killed in Sindhupalchok, a district that is a three-hour drive from the capital.

Compounding the problem for many who lost loved ones, there is a shortage of wood to burn to cremate the dead in Kathmandu, locals said. Some have resorted to burning corpses with hay at the famed Hindu Pasupatinath temple.

Nepal's Home Ministry yesterday adjusted the confirmed death toll to 4,349, with more than 7,000 injured.

"The death toll could go up to 10,000 because information from remote villages hit by the earthquake is yet to come in," Mr Koirala was quoted as telling Reuters news agency.

"The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing," he said.

"It is a challenge and a very difficult hour for Nepal."

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