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Nepal earthquake: Helicopters ferry injured from villages near epicentre

Helicopters crisscrossed the mountains above a remote district Tuesday near the epicentre of the weekend earthquake in Nepal, ferrying the injured and delivering emergency supplies.

UN says 1.4 million people need food aid, but there will be challenges to reach them

Nepal earthquake aftermath

The National

6 years ago
2:51
Rattled survivors have spent four miserable nights sleeping on the streets, and at this point, aid is still only trickling in 2:51

Helicopters crisscrossed the mountains above a remote district Tuesday near the epicentre of the weekend earthquake in Nepal, ferrying the injured and delivering emergency supplies. Officials said 250 villagers were feared missing in a new mudslide.

Two helicopters brought in eight women from Ranachour village, two of them clutching babies and a third heavily pregnant.

"There are many more injured people in my village," said Sangita Shrestha, who was pregnant and visibly downcast as she got off the helicopter. She was quickly surrounded by Nepalese soldiers and policemen and ushered into a waiting van to be taken to a hospital.

The little town of Gorkha, the district's administrative and trading centre, is being used as a staging post to get rescuers and supplies to those remote communities after Saturday's magnitude-7.8 earthquake.
Thirteen bodies were pulled out of a house in Kathmandu, Nepal in the wake of Saturday's devastating earthquake. The last two bodies were found Tuesday where relatives stand in this photo. (Sasa Petricic/CBC)

Not far from the quake's epicentre, 250 people were feared missing after a mudslide and avalanche on Tuesday, district official Gautam Rimal said.

Heavy snow had been falling near the village, Ghodatabela, and the ground may have been loosened by the quake. Rimal said officials received initial reports of the disaster by phone but then lost contact.

The village, about a 12-hour walk from the nearest town, is along a popular trekking route, but it was not clear if the missing included trekkers.

No clean water for many

Across central Nepal, including the capital of Kathmandu, hundreds of thousands of people were still living in the open without clean water or sanitation more than three days after the quake. It rained heavily in the city Tuesday, forcing people to find shelter wherever they could.

After being unable to land Monday at Kathmandu airport due to a backlog of flights arriving and departing, CBC News correspondents Sasa Petricic and Margaret Evans arrived in the city on Tuesday.

"Throughout Kathmandu, as we drove in, there are tents all over the place [and] people sleeping outside, even though it is pouring rain. They are just too much afraid to go back into their houses," Petricic said. 

On Tuesday night, French rescuers freed a man from the ruins of a three-storey Kathmandu hotel, one of a cluster near the main bus station. The man, identified as Rishi Khanal, was conscious and taken to a hospital, but no other information about him was released.
Injured residents are carried by Nepal Army personnel to a helicopter following Saturday's earthquake in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal. (REUTERS)

In Gorkha, some women who came off the helicopters on Tuesday were grimacing and crying in pain and unable to walk or speak, in agony three days after being injured in the quake.

Sita Karki winced when soldiers lifted her. Her broken and swollen legs had been tied together with crude wisps of hay twisted into a makeshift splint.

"When the earthquake hit, a wall fell on me and knocked me down," she said. "My legs are broken."

After an hour of dark clouds gathering, the wind kicked up in Gorkha and sheets of rain began to pour down.

Rain causing problems

Geoff Pinnock of the UN's World Food Program was leading a convoy of trucks north toward the worst-affected areas when the rain began to pound, leaving them stuck.

"This rain has caused a landslide that has blocked my trucks. I can maybe get one truck through and take a risk driving on the dirt, but I think we'll have to hold the materials back to try to get them out tomorrow by helicopter," he said.
A victim with a broken leg from Saturday's massive earthquake is carried by Nepalese soldiers as she arrives by helicopter from the heavily-damaged village of Ranachour at a landing zone in the town of Gorkha, Nepal on Tuesday (Wally Santana/Associated Press)

Aid workers who had reached the edges of the epicentre described entire villages reduced to rubble.

"In some villages, about 90 per cent of the houses have collapsed. They're just flattened," said Rebecca McAteer, an American physician who rushed to the quake zone from the distant Nepal hospital where she works.

And yet, the timing of the earthquake — near midday, when most rural people are working in the fields — meant most villagers were spared injuries when buildings collapsed, she said. So far, police say they have 373 confirmed deaths in Gorkha district.

Most those injured, she added, were young people and the elderly, since most young men long ago left their villages in search of better-paying work.

"The immediate need is getting support to where it's needed, but there will be a lot of work rebuilding," said McAteer, who was heading back soon to the centre of the quake zone.

Thomas Meier, an engineer with the International Nepal Fellowship who accompanied McAteer to the devastated villages, said the disaster's aftermath would stretch long into the future.

"This is a long-term emergency," he said. "This will need major attention for the next five years. People have nothing left."
Nepalese soldiers stack bags of grain at a relief staging area in the town of Gorkha, Nepal on Tuesday. (Wally Santana/Associated Press)

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN resident co-ordinator in Kathmandu, told reporters that 8 million people had been affected by the quake, and that 1.4 million needed food assistance.

The challenge is to reach them in rugged isolated villages.

After flying by helicopter over the Kathmandu Valley, he noted the erratic path of the quake's power.

"Some areas on one ridge are completely untouched, on the other side it's completely flattened," he said.

At Kathmandu airport, flights arrived with emergency aid and helicopters brought in both foreign trekkers and local villagers from quake-struck areas. Helicopters chartered by trekking companies reached the Langtang area, about 60 kilometres north of Kathmandu, a popular area for trekking — a key contributor to the country's economy.

'Cliffs came down'

Dave Gordon, from San Francisco, said he was in the area until Tuesday waiting for the rescue flight.

"Cliffs came down, four or five porters were deceased, buried in the rock fall," he said of the quake. "Trails are completely destroyed. People are stuck. They can't get out. It was very bad."
The National Disaster Response Force from India work early Tuesday in Kathmandu to recover the dead bodies from a collapsed house after Saturday's earthquake. (Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters)

The UN says it is releasing $15 million from its central emergency response fund for quake victims. The funds will allow international humanitarian groups to scale up operations and provide shelter, water, medical supplies and logistical services, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Trucks carrying food were on their way to affected districts outside the hard-hit and densely populated Kathmandu Valley. 

Many of the ornate, historic buildings in Bhaktapur, a key tourist site just east of Kathmandu, were reduced to rubble. Residents began returning to collect whatever belongings they could.

The exact death toll is still unclear. A report from police Insp. Sharad Thapa at the Nepal Police Control Room in Kathmandu put the death toll at 4,680. The UN, however, issued a report putting the death toll at 4,358 with more than 8,000 injured.

Another 61 were killed in neighbouring India, and China's official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet. At least 18 of the dead were killed at Mount Everest as the quake unleashed an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing for summit attempts.

Tens of thousands are believed to be homeless.

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