Aid reaches epicenter as Nepal toll tops 5,000
Hands pressed together in supplication, t he Nepalese women pleaded for food, shelter and anything else the helicopter might have brought on an inand- out run Wednesday to this smashed mountain village near the epicenter of last weekend’s mammoth earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people.
Unlike in Nepal’s capital, where most buildings were spared complete collapse, the tiny hamlets clinging to the remote mountainsides of Gorkha District have been ravaged. Entire clusters of homes were reduced to piles of stone and splintered wood. Orange plastic tarps used for shelter now dot the cliff sides and terraced rice paddies carved into the land.
“We are hungry,” cried a woman who gave her name only as Deumaya, gesturing toward her stomach and opening her mouth to emphasize her desperation. Another woman, Ramayana, her eyes hollow and haunted, repeated the plea: “Hungry! We are hungry!”
But food is not the only necessity in short supply out here be- yond the reaches of paved roads, electricity poles and other benefits of the modern world. These days, even water is scarce. Communication is a challenge. And modern medical care is a luxury many have never received.
As the helicopter l anded Wednesday with 40- kilogram ( 90- pound) sacks of rice, wind and rain whipped across the crest of the mountain. Seeing the conditions, the U. N. World Food Program’s Geoff Pinnock shouted over the roar of the propellers, “the next shipment has to be plastic sheets. These people need shelter more than they need food.”
About 200 villagers huddled under a few umbrellas and plastic tarps as they waited to receive the aid, some with runny noses and chattering teeth. With the erratic Himalayan weather, aid workers are worried about keeping people warm, fed and safe.
Nepalese police said Wednesday the death toll from the quake had reached 5,027. Another 18 were killed on the slopes of Mount Everest, while 61 died in neighboring India, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency re-
ported 25 dead in Tibet.
Protests Breaks out
Planes carrying food and other supplies have been steadily arriving at Kathmandu’s small airport, but the aid distribution process remains fairly chaotic, with Nepalese officials having difficulty directing the flow of emergency supplies.
About 200 people blocked traffic in the capital Wednesday to protest the slow pace of aid delivery. The protesters faced off with police and there were minor scuffles but no arrests were made.
Police arrested dozens of people on suspicion of looting abandoned homes as well as causing panic by spreading rumors of another big quake. Police official Bigyan Raj Sharma said 27 peo- ple were detained for stealing.
But in a sign that life was inching back to normal, banks in Kathmandu opened for a few hours Wednesday and stuffed their ATMs with cash, giving people access to money.
Thousands of people lined up at bus stations in the capital, hoping to reach their hometowns in rural areas. Some have had little news of family and loved ones since Saturday’s quake. Others are scared of staying close to the epicenter, northwest of Kathmandu.
(Above) Buses loaded with Nepalese going to their hometowns prepare to leave Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, April 29. (Right) Nepalese police stop demonstrators who blocked traffic to protest the slow pace of aid delivery for those affected by the earthquake, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday.