Nepal quake kills over 1,800

7.8 tem­blor flat­tens build­ings; toll is ex­pected to rise sharply

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Carol J. Wil­liams, Julie Maki­nen and Bhrikuti Rai

KAT­MANDU, Nepal — The most pow­er­ful earth­quake to hit Nepal in more than eight decades roared across the im­pov­er­ished moun­tain king­dom just be­fore noon Satur­day, killing more than 1,800 peo­ple, some as far away as In­dia and Bangladesh, and dev­as­tat­ing a crowded base camp at Mt. Ever­est.

Sig­na­ture build­ings col­lapsed in the an­cient Old Kat­mandu quar­ter of the cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing the Dhara­hara Tower, a 200-foot-tall struc­ture built in 1832. Emer­gency re­sponse of­fi­cials said at least 60 tourists were buried un­der rub­ble while vis­it­ing the popular site at the busiest time of day. Other his­toric build­ings in Kat­mandu Val­ley’s UNESCO des­ig­nated her­itage sites were also dam­aged or de­stroyed by the mag­ni­tude 7.8 tem­blor, in­clud­ing Patan Dur­bar Square.

“Re­spon­ders are try­ing to dig peo­ple out,” said Pra­jana W. Prad­ham of the CARE re­lief agency. “This quake was so big.”

Of­fi­cials warned that the death toll was likely to in­crease dramatically, per­haps to as many as 10,000, as emer­gency re­sponse crews reach more re­mote ar­eas of the coun­try of 28 mil­lion.

On Satur­day evening, Kat­mandu, a city of 1 mil­lion, was turned into a teem­ing tent com­mu­nity where sur­vivors dragged their mat­tresses to sleep out­doors, fear­ful that dozens of af­ter­shocks would bring down dam­aged homes and bury them.

“We don’t want to go home now with so many af­ter­shocks through the day, and even just now it is too risky to stay in­doors,” said Sak­ila Gurng, a res­i­dent of

the densely pop­u­lated New Banesh­wor neigh­bor­hood who was camp­ing at a school.

A light rain fell in the early hours Sun­day, adding to the dis­com­fort of the hordes of dis­placed Kat­mandu res­i­dents but ap­pear­ing to have lit­tle im­me­di­ate ef­fect on re­lief op­er­a­tions, which were com­pli­cated by the wide­spread rub­ble.

Tele­vi­sion and In­ter­net ser­vices were dis­rupted and phone and elec­tric­ity lines were down.

The quake struck at the height of the Hi­malayan climb­ing sea­son, when for­eign vis­i­tors flock to the cap­i­tal and the world’s tallest moun­tain. Among the dead was a Bay Area tech­nol­ogy en­gi­neer, Dan Fred­in­burg, one of at least 17 peo­ple killed when an avalanche set off by the earth­quake swept into the main base camp for climbers at­tempt­ing to reach Ever­est’s 29,035-foot sum­mit.

A toll of 1,805 con­firmed dead pro­vided by Home Min­istry of­fi­cial Laxmi Dhakal to news agen­cies in Kat­mandu re­ferred only to Nepalese vic­tims. The min­istry said 4,718 peo­ple had been in­jured. The known fa­tal­ity count across the sub­con­ti­nent was at least 1,874, in­clud­ing at least 60 re­ported deaths in In­dia, four in Bangladesh and five in China’s Ti­bet re­gion.

The U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey said its mod­els in­di­cated that dam­age could amount to as much as half of Nepal’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, one of the low­est per capita in the world.

Within hours, aid be­gan pour­ing in, as soon as Nepal’s sole in­ter­na­tional air­port re­opened af­ter a clo­sure prompted by com­mu­ni­ca­tions out­ages and con­cern that the run­way might have been dam­aged.

Nepal Repub­lic Me­dia, a pri­vate news out­let in the coun­try, said an In­dian air force C-130 plane car­ry­ing 40 res­cue and med­i­cal per­son­nel had ar­rived in Kat­mandu along with 3 tons of sup­plies. Three other air­craft were also be­ing sent from In­dia, In­dian For­eign Sec­re­tary Su­jatha Singh said on In­dian tele­vi­sion. One was car­ry­ing a mo­bile hos­pi­tal.

Wash­ing­ton was send­ing a dis­as­ter as­sis­tance re­sponse team to Kat­mandu and the U.S. Em­bassy was im­me­di­ately re­leas­ing $1 mil­lion in ini­tial hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokes­woman Ber­nadette Mee­han said.

The Nepalese gov­ern­ment an­nounced that all for­eign re­lief per­son­nel would be is­sued free visas upon ar­rival in the coun­try.

Non­govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions is­sued ur­gent ap­peals for money and vol­un­teers to help treat the thou­sands in­jured in the dis­as­ter, which also had ren­dered many of the coun­try’s med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties in­op­er­a­ble and prob­a­bly con­tam­i­nated Kat­mandu’s wa­ter sys­tem.

“Ban­dages, an­ti­sep­tic creams, al­co­hol pads, an­tibac­te­rial hand san­i­tizer, plas­tic bags, san­i­tary nap­kins and wa­ter-pu­rifi­ca­tion tablets. It is vi­tal that we de­liver th­ese items as quickly as pos­si­ble!” said an ap­peal from NFCC In­ter­na­tional.

Kat­mandu was a panorama of de­struc­tion, with top­pled util­ity poles, col­lapsed walls, churned-up as­phalt and de­bris from crushed houses sprawled across the land­scape.

Many struc­tures in Nepal are made of un­re­in­forced brick or crushed stone, and scores of peo­ple were in­jured in the quake by sharp ob­jects sent fly­ing from col­laps­ing build­ings. Clouds of dust swirled around the pan­icked ex­o­dus as walls were shaken into rub­ble by the quake.

The af­ter­shocks that sent al­most the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of the cap­i­tal out of doors also prompted evac­u­a­tion of its hos­pi­tals. Pa­tients in pa­ja­mas could be seen sit­ting on mat­tresses that had been car­ried out to park­ing lots, along with in­tra­venous drips to which many were teth­ered.

Kat­mandu was in “near to­tal dark­ness” by 9:30 p.m., said Kunda Dixit, edi­tor of the Nepali Times.

Fallen walls blocked some of the cap­i­tal’s nar­row streets, fur­ther ham­per­ing the over­whelmed emer­gency crews, said San­tosh Sharma, an emer­gency re­sponse co­or­di­na­tor with CARE. He said he rushed to help two peo­ple trapped in rub­ble at a nearby home.

“Their house is com­pletely col­lapsed,” Sharma said. “They had bad wounds and were bleed­ing. We took them to the near­est health cen­ter where they got first aid.”

Pramod Bha­gat said he set up a sleep­ing area out­side his home where he spent the night with cook­ies, iced tea and a Kin­dle to take his mind off the tragedy. He said he wore a bike hel­met all night to pro­tect him­self from de­bris that con­tin­ued to fly around from af­ter­shocks.

Kat­mandu was quiet by mid­night, save for the sound of bark­ing dogs and the oc­ca­sional chants of “Ayo!

Ayo !” (“It’s come! It’s come!”) as neigh­bors shouted to one an­other at the on­set of each af­ter­shock, said Rupa Joshi, com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist for UNICEF in Nepal.

Joshi said she took to the streets af­ter the quake, try­ing to calm trau­ma­tized fam­i­lies and to sur­vey the dam­age.

“Not sure how many can sleep with so many af­ter­shocks,” she told The Times. “Many peo­ple are out­doors, in the streets and the open grounds.”

At night­fall in Thamel, a tourist dis­trict of the cap­i­tal popular with coun­ter­cul­ture trav­el­ers since the hip­pie move­ment of the 1960s, back­pack­ers could be seen walk­ing in droves in search of a place to pitch their tents for the night.

A pic­ture pro­vided from the Ever­est base camp by Azim Afif, leader of a Malaysian climb­ing team on the moun­tain, showed the eerie scene of crushed tents and de­bris strewn across a moon­lit slope of the moun­tain range known as “the roof of the world.”

The quake was cen­tered 48 miles north­west of Kat­mandu. It was most strongly felt in the cap­i­tal as well as the densely pop­u­lated Kat­mandu Val­ley, but it also shook sev­eral cities across north­ern In­dia, and was felt as far away as La­hore in Pak­istan, Lhasa in Ti­bet and Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Of­fi­cials said the quake oc­curred at a depth of only seven miles, which is con­sid­ered shal­low in ge­o­log­i­cal terms. The shal­lower the quake the more de­struc­tive power it car­ries, and wit­nesses said the trem­bling and sway­ing of the earth went on for sev­eral min­utes.

A mag­ni­tude 6.6 af­ter­shock hit about an hour later, and at least 20 other af­ter­shocks fol­lowed the huge tem­blor.

The quake was the same mag­ni­tude as the one that dev­as­tated San Fran­cisco in 1906.

In Jan­uary 1934, an 8.2 quake rum­bled across Nepal, killing an es­ti­mated 10,000 peo­ple there and more than 7,000 in In­dia. Large swaths of Kat­mandu were de­stroyed.

Though the ex­tent of the dam­age and the scale of the cur­rent dis­as­ter are yet to be as­cer­tained, the quake will prob­a­bly put a huge strain on the re­sources of this poor coun­try, which is best known for Ever­est. The econ­omy of Nepal is heav­ily de­pen­dent on tourism, prin­ci­pally trekking and Hi­malayan moun­tain climb­ing.

The quake-in­duced avalanche that struck the base camp fol­lowed by just more than a year a dis­as­trous avalanche in which 16 Sherpa guides died.

Javier Ca­ma­cho Gimenez, a moun­taineer and pho­tog­ra­pher who was at the Ever­est base camp, said avalanches had buried tents, in­clud­ing those of Chi­nese and Ja­panese climbers.

Nepalese tourism of­fi­cials said 10 bod­ies had been re­cov­ered from the avalanche area. The ekan­tipur web­site said there were at least 1,200 peo­ple on the Ever­est climb­ing routes, in­clud­ing cooks, porters and guides for the pre­dom­i­nantly for­eign climbers.

“The sit­u­a­tion in the Ever­est base camp is now chaos,” Ca­ma­cho told the Span­ish news agency EFE. “He­li­copters can­not ac­cess the area due to bad weather.”

Alex Gavan, a moun­taineer, tweeted that the quake trig­gered a mas­sive avalanche from Pu­mori, about five miles west of Ever­est.

“Huge dis­as­ter,” he wrote. “Helped searched and res­cued vic­tims through huge de­bris area. Many dead. Much more badly in­jured. More to die if not heli asap.”

Omar Ha­vana Getty Images

RES­CUERS re­move a vic­tim af­ter the 1832 Dhara­hara Tower col­lapsed in Old Kat­mandu. Of­fi­cials said at least 60 tourists were buried.

Niranjan Shrestha As­so­ci­ated Press

THE QUAKE col­lapsed struc­tures at Dur­bar Square, a UNESCO-des­ig­nated her­itage site in Kat­mandu. Af­ter­shocks left peo­ple afraid to go in­doors.

Omar Ha­vana Getty Images

A WOMAN is re­moved from the de­bris of the 200-foot-tall Dhara­hara Tower in Old Kat­mandu, a popular tourist site that was top­pled by the mas­sive earth­quake at the busiest time of day.

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