Powerful Magnitude-7.8 Earthquake Rocks Nepal, Death Toll Exceeds 1,200Wall Street Journal
April 25, 2015
NEW DELHI-Rescuers worked into the night Saturday searching for survivors of a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds of people in and around Nepal's capital, Katmandu.
The country's Home Ministry put the death toll at more than 1,200 and said it was expected to rise as emergency personnel fanned out across the city and its surrounding valley, home to about 2.5 million people.
"There has been a huge impact all over the country and we are assessing the situation," said Lakshmi Prasad Dhakal, a spokesman for the ministry. "A lot of people are feared trapped inside the debris of the buildings."
"There has been a huge impact all over the country and we are assessing the situation," said Lakshmi Prasad Dhakal, a spokesman for Nepal's Home Ministry. "A lot of people are feared trapped inside the debris of the buildings."
The quake and a series of serious aftershocks delivered a severe blow to Nepal, one of the world's poorest and least-developed nations, and one that has faced a recent wave of political turmoil amid debate over a new constitution.
"I have been in earthquakes before, but this was the mother of all earthquakes," said Prithivi Pande, a 60-year-old banker in Katmandu. "It went on and on and on. Everything was falling off the walls."
Uddav Timilsina, chief district officer of Gorkha, near the quake's epicenter, said soldiers, police and ordinary citizens were digging through the rubble of collapsed homes on Saturday evening, looking for people trapped when the quake hit shortly before noon, local time.
Mr. Timilsina said 45 bodies had been recovered, but that rescuers had yet to reach remote parts of the district, from which Nepalese Gurkha soldiers derive their name. "More than 50% of houses in the villages have been damaged," he said.
The quakes triggered an avalanche that swept through base camp at Mount Everest in the Himalayas of northern Nepal, where international mountaineers and their local guides were preparing for ascents of the world's highest peak.
The destruction there was extensive, Nima Namgyal Sherpa, a doctor and mountaineer, wrote on his Facebook page. The avalanche had wiped out many adventurers' camps, he said. "All the doctors here are doing our best to treat and save lives," Dr. Sherpa wrote.
Iswari Paudel, managing director of Himalayan Guides Nepal, a Katmandu-based trekking company, said he had received word that at least four people working for his company on an Everest expedition were dead.
The quake could be felt in the Indian capital, New Delhi, as well as in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Indian authorities said at least 39 people in the country were killed as a result of the quake. A total of 16 Chinese citizens have been confirmed to have died in the quake, including four in Nepal, Chinese state television said.
More than 200 people jammed into the Katmandu Model Hospital in the Nepali capital on Saturday evening, according to Dawa Sherpa, a receptionist there. Many were being treated for broken bones, she said.
Ms. Sherpa said more patients were arriving every hour, some in ambulances, others in taxis. "The situation was critical but now we are managing it," she said. After each aftershock, "patients try to run away and it is quite difficult controlling them."
Historic neighborhoods of Nepal's capital were among the most damaged parts of the city. Some of the country's oldest buildings crumbled, leaving piles of old bricks.
Katmandu and its suburbs are full of centuries-old historical sites. The area has so many important temples, palaces and courtyards, many of them more than 300 years old, that seven areas of the Katmandu Valley are protected as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Parts of Katmandu's Durbar Square were reduced to rubble, said Sagar Manandhar, owner of a guesthouse in the neighborhood. "The whole place is in a mess now," he said in a telephone interview. "A lot of heritage places have fallen down."
Nepalese businessman Suraj Vaidya said that when the quake struck, he saw the historic nine-story Dharahara tower in the center of Katmandu collapse. He said he felt major tremors as parts of other buildings fell off and people poured into the streets.
"I have never felt such a long, violent shake," said Mr. Vaidya by phone. "It was the most frightening thing. There was screaming, shouting, a lot of panic."
The U.S. Geological Survey revised the magnitude of the quake to 7.8 from an earlier estimate of 7.9 on Saturday. It was followed by a large, magnitude-6.6 aftershock and other smaller temblors. The epicenter was about 50 miles northwest of Katmandu.
The quake struck in what is known as the Indus-Yarlung suture zone, where the Indian subcontinent meets the Eurasian tectonic plate. The collision of the two, 40 million to 50 million years ago, gave rise to the Himalayas.
It is an area that has been the site of some of the region's deadliest earthquakes, including one in Kashmir in 2005 that killed more than 80,000 people. A powerful earthquake also struck Nepal in 1934, causing mass casualties.
Khemraj Adhikari, a manager at a hostel in the Thamel neighborhood, which is frequented by backpackers and other travelers, said many taller buildings were cracked but that only a few had collapsed. He said people were congregating in the streets.
"There are cars and ambulances running everywhere and locals are trying to help each other," he said.
Governments rushed Saturday to offer assistance. Indian air-force planes began flying in rescue teams and supplies. The European Commission and the U.S. Embassy in Nepal each said experts were on their way to the quake-stricken areas, while the German government said it would help as well. The commission said it is considering offering financial help, while the U.S. is providing immediate aid of $1 million.
"Today's Earthquake has made us all very sad. Reports are still coming on the extent of the damage," said a tweet from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's official account. "Nepal's pain is our pain," another tweet said.
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