Tens of thousands of people were spending the night in the open under a chilly and thunderous sky after a powerful earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, killing more than 1,180 people, collapsing modern houses and ancient temples and triggering a landslide on Mount Everest. Officials warned the death toll would rise as more reports came in from far-flung areas.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which originated outside the capital Kathmandu, was the worst tremor to hit the poor South Asian nation in over 80 years. It strong enough to be felt all across the northern part of neighboring India, Bangladesh, Tibet and Pakistan, where a total of 50 people died. The death toll in Nepal was 1,130, but was almost certain to rise, said deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam.
As Nepal trembled, residents fled homes and buildings in panic. Walls tumbled, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets and walls. Clouds of dust began to swirl all around.
Within hours of the quake, hospitals had filled up with hundreds of injured people. With organized relief and rescue largely absent, many were brought to hospitals by friends and relatives in motorized rickshaws, flatbed trucks and cars. Residents used their bare hands, crowbars and other tools to dig through rubble and rescue survivors.
More than two dozen aftershocks jolted the area after the first quake, which struck just before noon. At the time, Shrish Vaidya, who runs an advertising agency, was in his two-story house outside the capital Kathmandu with his parents.
“It is hard to describe. The house was shaking like crazy. We ran out and it seemed like the road was heaving up and down,” Vaidya, 46, told The Associated Press. “I don’t remember anything like this before. Even my parents can’t remember anything this bad.”
Once the first shaking stopped, Vaidya thought his family could return indoors by evening. But the jolts kept coming, and they felt safer outdoors.
“It’s cold and windy so we are all sitting in the car listening to the news on FM radio,” he said. “The experts are saying it’s still not safe to go back inside. No one can predict how big the next aftershock will be.”
So the family ate dinner outside with the headlights of their car providing light. Vaidya was grateful his wife and 10-year-old son were on holiday in the U.S.
In his largely affluent neighborhood of low-rise, sturdy homes in suburban Kathmandu the damage was relatively light. In other parts of the city where the buildings are older and poorly built people have not been as lucky.
Forecasts called for rain and thunder showers later Saturday and Sunday and the temperatures were in the mid-50s (14 Celsius), cold enough to make camping outside uncomfortable.
Thousands of people were spending the night at Tudikhel, a vast open ground in the middle of Kathmandu, just next to the old city that is lined with historic buildings and narrow lanes. Now it is in ruins.
People lay on plastic sheets or cardboard boxes, wrapped in blankets. Mothers kept their children warm; some lit fire with whatever wood they could find. Most were eating instant noodles and cookies.
Deepak Rauniar, a shop worker who was there with his friends, said: “We are too scared to go back to our apartment. It is surrounded closely by houses, most of them old. The houses could collapse while we are still sleeping.”
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