KATHMANDU, Nepal (4th UPDATE) – A massive earthquake killed more than 2000 people Saturday, April 25, as it tore through large parts of Nepal, toppling office blocks and towers in Kathmandu and triggering a deadly avalanche at Everest base camp.
At least 1,953 people are known to have died in Nepal, officials said, making it the quake-prone and impoverished Himalayan nation’s worst disaster in more than 80 years.
But the final toll from the 7.8 magnitude quake could be much higher as officials confirmed the death toll in India is now at 53 while Chinese state media reported 17 people have been killed in the Tibet region.
Offers of help poured in from governments around the world, with the United States and European Union announcing they were sending in disaster response teams, as emergency workers fanned out across Nepal to rescue those trapped under collapsed homes and buildings.
“Deaths have been reported from all regions except the far west. All our security personnel have been deployed to rescue and assist those in need,” Nepal police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told Agence France-Presse.
The Red Cross (IFRC) said it was concerned about the fate of rural villages close to the epicenter of the quake northwest of the capital Kathmandu, where a historic tower collapsed.
“Roads have been damaged or blocked by landslides and communication lines are down preventing us from reaching local Red Cross branches to get accurate information,” said IFRC Asia/Pacific director Jagan Chapagain.
At least 10 people were killed when an avalanche buried parts of Mount Everest’s base camp in Nepal where hundreds of mountaineers have gathered at the start of the annual climbing season, officials said.
Google executive Dan Fredinburg was the only climber killed so far identified.
Lawrence You, director of privacy at Google, said Fredinburg was with three other Google employees, who all survived. He added that Google.org was contributing $1 million to response efforts.
Experienced mountaineers said panic erupted at base camp, which had been “severely damaged”, while one described the avalanche as “huge”.
“Huge disaster. Helped searched and rescued victims through huge debris area. Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap,” tweeted Romanian climber Alex Gavan from base camp.
Gyanendra Kumar Shrestha, an official in Nepal’s tourism department, told Agence France-Presse: “We are trying to assess how many are injured. There might be over 1,000 people there right now, including foreign climbers and Nepalese supporting staff.”
Agence France-Presse Nepal bureau chief Ammu Kannampilly, on an assignment to Everest together with a colleague, was among those caught up in the chaos.
“We are both ok… snowing here so no choppers coming,” she said in an SMS on an approach to base camp. “I hurt my hand – got it bandaged and told to keep it upright to stop the bleeding.”
Historic tower collapses
Kathmandu was severely damaged, and the historic 9-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among buildings brought down.
At least a dozen bodies were taken away from the ruins of the 19th-century tower, according to an Agence France-Presse photographer who saw similar scenes of multiple casualties throughout the city.
“It was difficult to breathe, but I slowly moved the debris. Someone then pulled me out. I don’t know where my friends are,” Dharmu Subedi, 36, who was standing outside the tower when it collapsed, said from a hospital bed.
At least 42 people were known to have died in India, including 30 in the eastern state of Bihar, while buildings in the capital New Delhi had to be evacuated.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said that 13 people, including an 83-year-old woman, were killed in the Tibet region.
The United States Geological Survey said the shallow quake – initially measured at 7.5 magnitude and later adjusted to 7.8 – struck 77 km (48 miles) northwest of Kathmandu at 0611 GMT.
The quake ripped through the middle of highways in the capital and also caused damage to the country’s only international airport, which was briefly closed.
Kari Cuelenaere, an official at the Dutch embassy, said the impact had swept the water out of a swimming pool at a Kathmandu hotel where Dutch national day was being celebrated.
“It was horrible, all of a sudden all the water came up out of the pool and drenched everyone, the children started screaming,” Cuelenaere told Agence France-Presse. “Some parts of the city fell down, there was dust rising… There were many (rescue) helicopters.”
Aftershock tremors could be felt more than two hours after the initial quake.
Nepal and the rest of the Himalayas are particularly prone to earthquakes because of the collision of the Indian and Eurasia plates.
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 eastern India in 1934.
Offers of support
A spokesman for Nepal’s home ministry said the government had released around $500 million as emergency funds for rescue operations. (READ: International aid groups rush to reach Nepal quake victims)
India dispatched two military transport planes to help with the rescue and relief efforts and there were similar offers from around the region, including Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said a disaster response was being flown to Nepal and that the Obama administration had authorized an initial $1 million “to address immediate needs”.
Britain, Germany, Norway, Spain and Israel also pledged support and assistance, as international aid groups, including Action Against Hunger (ACF) and Christian Aid, mobilized funds and teams to send to Nepal.
Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy, in a telegram sent by his Secretary of State Pietro Parolin to the Nepalese Catholic authorities. – Paavan Mathema, AFP / Rappler.com