In Kathmandu Valley, quake-hit Nepalis fend for themselves

by Reuters
Sunday, 26 April 2015 14:53 GMT

People rush for safety during a strong aftershock after an earthquake, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 26, 2015. Rescuers dug with their bare hands and bodies piled up in Nepal on Sunday after the earthquake devastated the heavily crowded Kathmandu Valley, killing more than 2,200 people, and triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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By Ross Adkin

DHADING, Nepal, April 26 (Reuters) - Barely any sign of an organised relief effort was visible outside Nepal's capital on Sunday, as aid agencies struggled to fly and truck relief supplies to a country stricken by its worst earthquake in eight decades.

In the lush Dhading farming district 80 km (50 miles) outside Kathmandu, people camped in the open, the hospital was overflowing, the power was off and shops were closed. Rocks were strewn across the lightly-travelled single road running west from the capital.

"Many people have lost their homes. Many people have died," said English teacher Chandra Lama, whose home village lies two hours' drive further west. The crops in his village ruined, Lama was hunting for rice and pulses to feed his family.

"We are waiting to see what the government will do."

More than 1,100 people - or half of the total confirmed dead in Nepal - were in the Kathmandu Valley, a crossroads of the ancient civilisations of Asia and economic hub of the Himalayan nation of 28 million.

Indian military helicopters airlifted some injured to local hospitals but officials said their operations had been hampered by rain, cloud cover and repeated aftershocks. With thousands sleeping in the open with no power or water and downpours forecast, fears mounted of a humanitarian disaster.

Across the country, hundreds of villages have been left to fend for themselves.

"We are overwhelmed with rescue and assistance request from all across the country," said Deepak Panda, a member of the country's disaster management.

Charity CARE International said that the death toll could run into the thousands, with hundreds of thousands homeless.

"Almost everyone has slept outside and they are creating temporary shelters with what they have," said CARE's emergency response coordinator in Kathmandu, Santosh Sharma. CARE said shelter and washing facilities were a priority, as well as food.

"There is no electricity, and soon there will be a scarcity of water."

Aid agencies held a first meeting with the Nepali government on Sunday to coordinate the relief effort.

But the majority of rescue workers face a gruelling journey by land from Nepal's state capital Kathmandu along rough, badly damaged roads, more often frequented by groups of adventurous tourists heading for Himalayan trekking trails.

URGENT NEED

British charity Save the Children said hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded, running out of room to store dead bodies and short on emergency supplies.

"Thousands of people have to stay outside of their homes, which have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake. Shelter assistance is urgently needed," said Save the Children's Peter Olyle, who is based in Kathmandu.

Charity Medecins sans Frontieres was struggling to get relief supplies including thousands of blankets and shelter in from India's northern state of Bihar - also hit by Saturday's quake - because landslides had made roads difficult to navigate.

Strong aftershocks further hampered aid and caused panic after the Saturday's midday quake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and flattened buildings, opened cracks in roads and knocked out phone networks.

At the Dhading district hospital, patients were crammed in three to a bed and some being treated in the open. Officials reported 24 dead in the nearby village of Kumpur.

Three people lay on stretchers in a hospital corridor waiting for treatment. Bins were filled with used bandages and medical equipment as the hospital ran short of supplies, while volunteers had to help overstretched medical staff.

"No, I didn't sleep last night," said Rashila Amatya, medical superintendent at the hospital. New patients were being brought in from outlying areas on Sunday.

"For this new batch of patients there will probably not be enough medicine to last for today."

Basudev Ghimire, head of the local rescue unit, said that more than 130 people had been killed in the district but the number injured ran into the thousands.

The Indian military, he said, had brought more than 100 people by helicopter to the district hospital or to Kathmandu. But they had brought no supplies; only evacuated people.

Meanwhile, locals prepared for another cold night outside.

Officials on motorcycles rode through the town, telling residents through loudhailers that it was not safe to go indoors because of the risk of aftershocks. People were building tents with bamboo and sheets, with at least 1,000 ready to spend the night in several makeshift camps. (Additional reporting by Rupam Nair in KATHMANDU; Clara Ferreira Marques and Neha Dasgupta in MUMBAI; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Sophie Walker)

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