Nepal earthquake: DART, Canadian Red Cross relief efforts ramp up

Advance members of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team began heading to Nepalese villages outside the capital Kathmandu on Thursday to see how the team can help the earthquake-torn country.

Exact number of Canadians who were in Nepal when quake hit still not clear

Elderly villagers start their 20-kilometre hike back up to their mountain home with international aid they received in the damaged village of Balua, near the epicentre of Saturday's massive earthquake. Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team is among the international groups on the ground providing disaster relief. (Wally Santana/Associated Press)

Advance members of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team began heading to Nepalese villages outside the capital Kathmandu on Thursday to see how the team can help the earthquake-torn country.

Lt.-Cmdr. Kelly Williamson said while there are still signs of destruction in Kathmandu, people there are slowly returning to normal patterns of life.

"But we understand that in some of the more remote villages, like the one that we are visiting today, they may not have some of the same access to some of the aid and assistance," she said on CBC News Network.

The earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday killed more than 5,500 people in the region, destroyed many buildings and cut off road access to parts of the country.

The DART advance party arrived at Kathmandu airport Wednesday aboard a Canadian military C-17 carrying medical supplies and bottled water.

That aircraft took about 100 people, including more than 70 Canadians, out of Kathmandu to New Delhi on Wednesday.

Asked why the C-17 didn't bring the Canadians all the way back home, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said the aircraft were used to bring equipment and humanitarian aid to Germany, and they will go back to Germany.

"It is impossible for us to bring Canadians back to Canada using those aircraft because they're used to transport emergency equipment," Kenney said. "But I'm sure those individuals can find commercial flights to take back to Canada from New Delhi."

A second Canadian C-17 was due to arrive in Kathmandu on Friday morning. That flight will also take any Canadians wanting to leave Nepal to New Delhi.

Hiking in with help

Aid agencies from countries, international agencies and non-profits are starting to arrive. There's concern about people in the capital city, but there's also a great need in the rural communities near the quake epicentre. 

Anna Lise Schmiel, a 20-year-old who is volunteering with a medical team in a rural community about 200 kilometres from hard-hit Gorkha, told CBC's As It Happens that the clinic she's working at "is a tent that is propped up by sticks that we cut down." 

"We just have camping tents for us volunteers to sleep in and just big tarps for all of the items that we have."

She said the injuries they were seeing were often cuts from the day of the earthquake, but that they think many of the more seriously injured people aren't getting care because they can't make it down to the clinic from their villages.

"Tomorrow a doctor and a few porters and I will be hiking about three to five hours into the villages to set up a medical tent for the villages that cannot reach us," she said.

"We're hoping with that, that people will trust us and start bringing their sick to us."

She said her group would pass along what it learned to larger aid organizations as they move into more rural areas. 

Numbers not yet clear

Canada's Foreign Affairs Department said in an email Thursday that search and rescue efforts are continuing and it's "too early to make a determination on how many Canadians are missing in Nepal."

"The Emergency Watch and Response Centre is currently reviewing files of a number of Canadians who are believed to have been in the affected area at the time the earthquake hit," the email said. 

Registering while abroad is voluntary, and there's no clear number yet on exactly how many Canadians were in the country when the quake hit. 

Williamson said the situation in Nepal presents some unique challenges.

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      "Unlike Haiti, which was the last earthquake that the Disaster Assistance Response Team assisted with, Nepal is a very mountainous country, and it makes access in some of the smaller villages a little more difficult," .

      The Canadian Red Cross said 24 of its medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and surgeons, arrived late Wednesday night in Nepal. The group's mobile 40-bed field hospital is expected to get there on Friday.

      "What we're finding right now is the most affected areas in Nepal are the bordering areas ... the remote areas bordering China," Canadian Red Cross president and CEO Conrad Sauvé  said. He added that some of those affected areas can take up to two days to reach, even under good conditions. In many cases, roads to those areas have been damaged by the quake.

      The Canadians are looking at working with the Nepalese military to airlift the field hospital into those remote regions, Sauvé said.

      So far, Canadians have donated over $8 million to the relief effort in Nepal, and the federal government is matching donations made between now and May 25.

      Sauvé said 95 per cent of the money raised will go directly to Nepalese relief, while the other five per cent will pay for the cost of fundraising.

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