Pleas for food as aid reaches village
Death toll from quake climbing, passing 5,000
GUMDA, Nepal — Hands pressed together in supplication, the Nepalese women pleaded for food, shelter and anything else the helicopter might have brought Wednesday to this smashed mountain village near the epicentre of last weekend’s earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people.
Unlike in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, 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 beyond the reaches of paved roads, electricity poles and other benefits of the modern world. These days, even water is scarce.
Gumda is one of a handful of villages identified as the worst hit by Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, from which it will almost certainly take years to recover.
As in many villages, though, the death toll in Gumda was far lower than feared, since many villagers were working outdoors when the quake struck at midday. Of Gumda’s 1,300 residents, five were killed in the quake and 20 more were injured.
As the helicopter landed Wednesday with 40-kilogram sacks of rice, wind and rain whipped across the crest of the mountain. Seeing the conditions, the UN 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.”
With eight million Nepalese affected by the earthquake, including 1.4 million needing immediate food assistance, Pinnock said the relief effort would stretch on for months.
Nepalese police said Wednesday the death toll from the quake had reached 5,045. Another 19 were killed on the slopes of Mount Everest, while 61 died in neighbouring India, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet.
The disaster also injured more than 10,000, police said, and rendered thousands more homeless.
Planes carrying food and other supplies have been steadily arriving at Kathmandu’s small airport, but the aid distribution process remains fairly chaotic. About 200 people blocked traffic in the capital Wednesday to protest the slow pace of aid delivery.
Police have arrested dozens of people on suspicion of looting abandoned homes as well as causing panic by spreading rumours of another big quake.
In some heartening news, French rescuers freed a man from the ruins of a threestorey Kathmandu hotel more than three days after the quake.