KATHMANDU (AFP) - The official death toll in Nepal from a massive weekend earthquake has risen to 3,218, a disaster management chief said on Monday – making it the quake-prone Himalayan nation’s deadliest disaster in more than 80 years.
"The death toll has reached 3,218 and over 6,500 are injured," said Mr Rameshwor Dangal, who heads the Home Ministry's national disaster management division.
The toll for Nepal had previously stood at 2,430. Around 90 people are also known to have died in neighbouring countries, including at least 67 in India and 20 in China.
Equipped with heavy cutting gear and accompanied by sniffer dogs, rescue teams were landing round-the-clock at the country’s only international airport on the outskirts of Kathmandu, the normally vibrant capital which has been devastated by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake.The earthquake also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that buried part of base camp and killed at least 18 people.
Aftershocks triggered fresh avalanches there on Sunday even as helicopters evacuated some of those worst injured the day before.Hundreds of foreign mountaineers had gathered at the world’s highest mountain at the start of the annual climbing season, and the real scale of the disaster there has been impossible to evaluate with communications all but cut off.With much of Kathmandu lying in ruins, tens of thousands of residents spent the night slept out on the streets, in makeshift tents fashioned from plastic sheeting that did little to protect them from heavy overnight rains.With the ground still regular shaking from nerve-shredding aftershocks, many endured a sleepless and miserable night.“We don’t have a choice, our house is shaky. The rain is seeping in but what can we do?,” said 34-year-old shopkeeper Rabi Shrestha as he camped out on the roadside.“I don’t know why the gods want us to suffer like this.”
The situation has been exacerbated by power cuts and the country’s cell phone network is at breaking point.The Nepalese government said it was stepping up efforts to help remote areas closer to the epicentre of the quake.“Our focus is on rescue,” Home Ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told AFP. “In far-flung areas, a larger helicopter will be stationed in the regional headquarters and smaller ones will shuttle with survivors.”
Announcing the latest death toll in Nepal, a top disaster official said that emergency crews would also step up their efforts to rescue those trapped in high-rise buildings which pancaked on Saturday.“Our efforts today will also be focused on finding survivors in areas where big buildings have collapsed,” Mr Rameshwor Dangal, who heads the home ministry’s national disaster management division, told AFP.The historic nine-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among the buildings brought down in Kathmandu Saturday.Police said around 150 people were thought to have been in the tower at the time of the disaster, based on ticket sales.“At least 30 dead bodies have been pulled out. We don’t have a number on the rescued but over 20 injured were helped out,” local police official Bishwa Raj Pokharel told AFP.“We haven’t finished our work there, rescue work is still continuing. Right now, we are not in a position to estimate how many might be trapped.”
The Nepalese rescuers were being joined by hundreds of foreign aid workers from countries such as China, India and the United States.Around 70 US aid workers, along with rescue dogs, headed to Nepal aboard a military transport plane which flew from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.The European Commission released 3 million euros (S$4.37 million) in emergency aid for Nepal which will help fund clean water, medicine, emergency shelter and telecommunications in the worst-affected areas.India meanwhile flew in 13 military transport planes loaded with tonnes of food, blankets and other aid.Hospitals have been overwhelmed by the disaster, with morgues overflowing and medics having to work through the night to cope with an endless stream of victims suffering trauma or multiple fractures.Some surgeons have been operating from makeshift theatres set up in parking lots with the aftershocks making patients too scared to stay inside.At the city’s oldest Bir Hospital, around a dozen dead bodies had to be placed on the floor, while stricken relatives stood vigil, trying to swat away the flies.Nepal and the rest of the Himalayas, where the Indian and Eurasia tectonic plates collide, are particularly prone to earthquakes.An 6.8 magnitude quake hit eastern Nepal in August 1988 killing 721 people, and a magnitude 8.1 quake killed 10,700 people in Nepal and India in 1934.