KATHMANDU: The video captures a rare bright moment amid the death and dark devastation in Nepal.
It shows uniformed officers digging though rubble, desperately trying to free a man who is hurt but alive. Rescuers lift him up, and cheers of joy erupt from the crowd. The clip on Nepal State Television shows him being put on a stretcher and carried to safety.
As day broke on Monday, Nepal was still in survival mode after suffering a series of powerful earthquakes and aftershocks over the weekend. At least 2,430 people died in Nepal alone, and that number is sure to climb. Including fatalities in India and China, more than 2,500 were killed.
Survivors look for others to save in what’s left but usually only find bodies.
The damage was everywhere. Stunned residents wandered the streets of Kathmandu, the capital city of 3 million people that’s now the focus of world disaster relief efforts. They dug through piles of debris where their homes once stood, seeking pieces of their former lives and, possibly, family members. Many injured were treated outside overflowing hospitals, where crowds of people gathered looking for relatives.
One of the world’s most scenic spots became a panorama of devastation in minutes.
“The journey towards my family home in Sitapaila was a map of quake destruction, with many houses — old and new — torn apart,” wrote freelance journalist Sunir Pandey. “A high wall surrounding a monastery had collapsed and the nuns had run to a nearby field. A mud-and-brick cottage had fallen on a blue motorbike but no trace could be found of its rider. Everywhere, survivors gathered wherever they could find open space — fields, private compounds, empty roadside lots.”
At night, many Nepalis slept in the open, shivering in the frigid air of the Himalayan Mountains but at least safe from falling debris. One visitor decided not to.
“The entire city was under darkness,” Christina Berry of England wrote for CNN affiliate IBN. “There was not a single light anywhere. The power supply had been cut off. Our caring hotel manager gave us some food and some candles, too. Me and Alexandra were so scared. We slept in the open verandah of the hotel fearing more quakes in the night.”
CNN producer Ingrid Formanek, who arrived Sunday night, said Kathmandu “looks like a city where buildings have been abandoned. People are hanging out in public squares and at intersections to avoid rubble from buildings.”
“We were able to drive the main road to the hotel we’re staying at, but they’re not allowing anyone inside because of the aftershocks. The guests are in a big tent used for functions on the lawn. People are squeezed in. There are probably about 100 people in there,” Formanek said. “The tents are covered, but water is seeping in from streets puddled with water, especially around the edges of the tent. ”
Many of the city’s centuries-old buildings, which had stood stalwart for generations and provided a sense of national pride, have been toppled.
Dozens of bodies were pulled from Dharahara, the historic nine-story tower that came crashing down during the quake. A backhoe chipped away at the nub left protruding through its crumbled ruins.
When it seemed as if things couldn’t get worse, a powerful aftershock jolted Nepal on Sunday, sending people screaming into the streets and causing new injuries for already traumatized residents. Climbers said it set off fresh avalanches on Mount Everest, where at least 17 people were reported to have been killed on Saturday.
The magnitude of the new quake Sunday was initially estimated at 6.7 by the U.S. Geological Survey, considerably weaker than the magnitude-7.8 of the devastating one of a day earlier.
Formanek said people are banding together in other ways, with stores shuttered and very few sources of food and drinkable water.
“Communal kitchens have been set up for cooking. Not by the government — people set them up on their own,” she said.
The death toll is expected to rise as the full extent of the damage emerges. It’s difficult to know how many people died in the rugged countryside that makes up most of Nepal.
In Nepal alone, the death toll has jumped to at least 2,430, Nepal Home Affairs Ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said Sunday.
Three of the dead are U.S. citizens, a State Department official told CNN on Sunday, while offering “deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victims.” The State Department didn’t provide any names, but we’ve learned two of the three.
Google executive Dan Fredinburg was one of the Americans. According to an Instagram post by his sister on his account, an avalanche killed Fredinburg on Mount Everest.
Eve Girawong of New Jersey also was killed by an avalanche on Everest, according to Madison Mountaineering, the Seattle-based company that led her expedition. Girawong was at the Everest base camp when she was swept away to her death.
In neighboring India, the death toll has reached 56, most of them in Bihar state, said Lt. Gen. N.C. Marwah, a senior official of India’s National Disaster Management Authority. Also, 17 Chinese nationals died in Tibet, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua. These figures bring the overall death toll to more than 2,500.
The loss of life reported so far “is really based on the information we have from the main cities,” Lex Kassenberg, Nepal country director for CARE International, told CNN. “But if you look at the spread of the earthquake, a lot of the rural areas have been hit as well. The information we received from the field is that 80% of the houses in these rural areas have been destroyed.”
The mountains that define Nepal make it difficult to deliver relief, though international efforts are in full swing. Aftershocks are also complicating operations.
A team of 260 emergency responders was about an hour away from departure at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport when an aftershock in Katmandu delayed its departure.
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Disaster Response Team, made up of 54 urban search and rescue specialists from Fairfax County, Virginia, and six K-9s, headed to Nepal on Sunday on a C-17 military transport plane. The dogs are trained to find signs of life in rubble after a disaster.
But the trip was expected to take about 24 hours. How long can a person survive trapped in building rubble after the original earthquake on Saturday?
Siobhan Heanue, a reporter with ABC News Australia, told CNN she was wandering around an ancient temple complex at the moment of the earthquake. Several temples collapsed around her, she said.
“It’s not too often you find yourself in a situation where you have to run for your life,” Heanue said, adding that she sought shelter under the table of a cafe. “It was utterly terrifying.”
She watched as residents picked through the rubble of a destroyed temple, turning up bodies.
“Unfortunately, that search was not fruitful,” Heanue said. “There were 12 bodies at least pulled from the rubble in the square. This was just one of several historical temple complexes severely affected by the earthquake.”
Dharahara was packed with people when it collapsed. Heanue said at least 50 bodies were pulled from its ruins.
The tower, built in 1832, provided visitors with a panoramic view of the Kathmandu Valley.
The epicenter of Saturday’s huge quake was less than 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, at a depth of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), which is considered shallow and more damaging than a deeper quake. Sunday’s aftershock occurred closer to Mount Everest, 65 kilometers east of the city, at a depth of 10 kilometers, according to the USGS.
News out of remote areas near the quake’s epicenter, where many more may have died, has been scant. Most of the homes in the secluded Latang Valley have been destroyed, an official there said.
The quake Saturday was the strongest in Nepal in more than 80 years. A magnitude-8.1 earthquake centered near Mount Everest in 1934 killed more than 10,000 people. – CNN