Shell-shocked and sleeping in the streets, tens of thousands of Nepalese braced against terrifying aftershocks Sunday while, on the other side of the world, Canada sent the first members of its elite disaster response team into the region that was devastated a day earlier by a massive earthquake that has killed 2,500 people.
While survivors dug through the ruins of Kathmandu, acrid, white smoke rose above the nation's most revered Hindu temple, where dozens of bodies were being cremated at any given time.
Aid groups received the first word from remote mountain villages — reports that suggested many communities perched on mountainsides were destroyed or struggling to cope.
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Landslides hindered rescue teams that tried to use mountain trails to reach those in need, said Prakash Subedi, chief district official in the Gorkha region, where the quake was centred.
"Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides, and it's not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls," said Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision. "It will likely be helicopter access only."
An 6.7-magnitude aftershock struck India and Nepal on Sunday, shaking buildings in New Delhi and triggering more avalanches in the Himalayas, which on Saturday were rattled by a 7.8 quake.
"The situation is quite difficult," Alain Lapierre, emergency team leader for CARE Canada, told CBC News from Kathmandu. "People are really overrun with the situation, with this aftershock. They don't feel they can go back to their houses."
Indian mountaineer Arjun Vajpai was on the phone with the Reuters news agency from advanced base camp on Mount Makalu, 20 kilometres from Mount Everest, when an aftershock struck.
"Another one, we have an aftershock right now," he said.
Screams and the sound of an avalanche could be heard over the phone line. At Everest base camp, Romanian climber Alex Gavan tweeted that the aftershock had set off three avalanches.
Rescuers aided by international teams, meanwhile, continued to clear rubble in search of survivors.
Victims included at least 721 people in the capital Kathmandu alone. More than 5,000 in Nepal have been injured, said Home Ministry official Laxmi Dhakal.
Saturday's earthquake, which originated outside Kathmandu, was the worst to hit the poor South Asian nation in over 80 years. It destroyed the old, historic part of the city, and was strong enough to be felt across the northern part of neighbouring India, Bangladesh, China's region of Tibet and Pakistan, where a total of 60 people died.
DART members fly out
Ottawa is sending aid and disaster experts to the area. Defence Minister Jason Kenney told CBC News on Sunday evening an advance team of experts was already en route and is expected to be in Nepal by Monday night.
The team will assess the situation and determine how to deploy other resources including the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), the military unit that deals with natural disasters or humanitarian emergencies.
A shipment of emergency supplies and the first wave of DART members departed CFB Trenton on Sunday evening — flying to Europe, Kuwait and then India, where they will wait until called into Nepal.
Nicholson's office said earlier Canada is sending $5 million to help relief efforts.
Stuck at consulate
An Ontario man in Nepal has written a letter to Nicholson, urging assistance for an estimated 25 Canadians who have taken shelter at the Canadian consulate in Kathmandu.
'We are presently living in the open garden of the consulate.' - Bryan Prince, Canadian stuck in Nepal
Bryan Prince of Hamilton said the consulate has been keeping them safe, but they "haven't received any information regarding what the Canadian government is actually going to do" to help.
"This is an urgent matter," he wrote. "Most of the people here do not have the funds to buy highly inflated air tickets back to Canada.
"Hotels and restaurants are closed and ATMs are not functioning. We are presently living in the open garden of the consulate. Compared to the pain and suffering of the people living here, our problems are small, but we urgently need to know just what you mean by reaching out."
Nicholson had earlier told the media Canada is reaching out to provide help to both Nepal and the 388 Canadians known to be there.
Long history of quakes
The quake occurred at the boundary between two pieces, or plates, of the Earth's crust, one of which supports India to the south and the other Eurasia to the north. The Indian plate is moving at 45 millimetres a year under the Eurasian plate, said Marin Clark, a geophysicist at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
So the quake was "definitely not a surprise," she said. Over millions of years, such quakes have led to the uplift of the Himalayas. Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.
The power of Saturday's tremors brought down several buildings in the centre of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers.
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Among them was the nine-storey Dharahara Tower, one of Kathmandu's landmarks built by Nepal's royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.
The head of the UN cultural agency, Irina Bokova, said in a statement that UNESCO was ready to help Nepal rebuild from "extensive damage, including to historic monuments and buildings of the Kathmandu Valley."