KATHMANDU (AFP) - An historic 19th-century tower collapsed in the heart of Kathmandu's old quarter after an earthquake on Saturday, with at least a dozen bodies seen pulled from the rubble and fears of scores still trapped.
The nine-storey Dharhara tower is a major tourist attraction in Durbar Square at the heart of Kathmandu's historic old city where kings were once crowned, with its eighth-floor balcony providing panoramic views of the Kathmandu valley.
The tower - which was white, topped with a bronze minaret and contained a spiral staircase of over 200 steps - was reduced to just its base when the 7.8-magnitude quake struck at lunchtime.
Rescue workers were seen dragging bodies from the rubble and TV footage showed chaotic scenes at the site, as people desperately tried to dig through piles of bricks and dust with their bare hands.
Kathmandu police spokesman Dinesh Acharya said rescuers were frantically trying to "bring everyone out to safety". "Our team is still deployed in Dharara to rescue people. However, we do not know how many are still trapped," he told AFP.
People took to social media to express their dismay at the historic site's collapse.
"Devastating to see Dharhara (Bhimsen Tower) collapsed," user Prabir Bhatt said on Twitter.
"The historic #Dharhara tower in #Nepal destroyed by the #Earthquake. Prayers!" wrote Rahul Sharma.
Saturday was not the first time the 50.5-metre-high tower - built by Nepal's then prime minister for the queen in 1832 - has been hit by an earthquake. Much of Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the social and cultural heart of the city, had to be rebuilt after a huge quake in 1934. The tower collapsed in that quake and was rebuilt two stories lower than the original.
The tower was a popular attraction, with tourists charged a small fee to climb the steps to the viewing deck. A small shrine to the Hindu god Shiva was located at the top. The Wikipedia page for the tower was updated within minutes after the earthquake hit, with the news of its collapse.