Nepal earthquake: Helicopters ferry injured from villages near epicentre
UN says 1.4 million people need food aid, but there will be challenges to reach them
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.