Nepal earthquake: Survivor found amid Kathmandu wreckage
More than 5,500 people dead and thousands of houses and other buildings destroyed
A long-absent noise — cheers — rang out in Nepal's capital Thursday as rescuers pulled a teenager alive from the earthquake rubble he had been trapped in for five days. The joy interrupted a dreary and still fearful day in which thousands worried about aftershocks lined up to board free buses to their rural hometowns.
Crowds cheered as the 15-year-old, identified by police as Pemba Tamang, was pulled out of the wreckage, dazed and dusty, and carried away on a stretcher. He had been trapped under the collapsed debris of a seven-storey building in Kathmandu since Saturday, when the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck.
Nepalese rescuers, supported by an American disaster response team, had been working for hours to free him. L.B. Basnet, the police officer who crawled into a gap to reach Tamang, said he was surprisingly responsive.
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"He thanked me when I first approached him," said Basnet. "He told me his name, his address, and I gave him some water. I assured him we were near to him."
When Tamang was lifted out, his face was covered in dust, and medics had put an IV drop into his arm. A blue brace had been placed around his neck. He appeared stunned, and his eyes blinked in the sunlight as workers hurriedly carried him away.
He told The Associated Press he was working in a hotel in the building when it began to shake.
"Suddenly the building fell down," he said. "I thought I was about to die."
All he had to eat while he was trapped was some ghee, or clarified butter, he said.
Later on Thursday, police reported the discovery of another survivor five days after the quake. They said a 20-year-old woman identified as Krishna Devi Khadka was rescued in an area near Kathmandu's main bus terminal.
The jubilant scene was welcome on a drizzly, chilly day in Kathmandu where many residents remained on edge over aftershocks that have rattled the city since Saturday's mammoth quake. The disaster has killed more than 5,500 people and destroyed thousands of houses and other buildings.
More than 70 aftershocks stronger than magnitude 3.2 have been recorded in the Himalayan region by Indian scientists over the past five days, according to J.L. Gautam, the director of seismology at the Indian Meteorological Department in New Delhi. The strongest, registering magnitude 6.9, came on Sunday, he said.
Rattled by the shaking and anxious to check on family members in outlying areas, tens of thousands of people have left the capital on buses this week. The government has been providing free bus service to many destinations.
"I have to get home. It has already been so many days," said Shanti Kumari, with her 7-year-old daughter, who was desperate to check on relatives in her home village in eastern Nepal. "I want to get at least a night of peace."
Five days after the quake, tent cities in Kathmandu had thinned out, as overnight rainfall persuaded many people to return to their homes, even if they were damaged by the quake. The streets of the capital were slick with rain Thursday morning, the potholes were filled with water.
Still, life in the capital was slowly returning to the way it had been before the quake. Small snack shops were open. At a leather goods shop, a merchant brushed dust from a jacket on display. A man laid out carpets and rugs beneath an awning at a handicrafts store. Foreigners stood in line at a cellphone store.
"It's getting back to normal, but we're still feeling aftershocks. It still doesn't feel safe," said Prabhu Dutta, a 27-year-old banker from Kathmandu. He said he felt four aftershocks in the morning, including one that rattled the sliding glass doors of the bookshelf in his bedroom —"My morning wake-up notice," he said.
Dutta has been sleeping in his home, which has some cracks in the wall, for two nights, but the dozens of small aftershocks that he has felt since Saturday's huge quake make him uneasy. "I am worried about whether they will continue for a long time or whether it will calm down."
He said some people are returning to work, including at his bank, "but we can't concentrate. We roam around the office. We only have one topic of conversation: the earthquake."
Many people in Kathmandu are going to the country fearing that a big aftershock is coming, he said. "They are afraid; everyone is afraid because the earthquakes haven't stopped fully."
On Wednesday, helicopters finally brought food, temporary shelter and other aid to villages northwest of Kathmandu in the mountainous Gorkha District near the epicentre. Entire clusters of homes there were reduced to piles of stone and splintered wood. Women greeted the delivery with repeated cries of "We are hungry!"
Meanwhile, at least 210 foreign trekkers and residents stranded in the Langtang area north of Kathmandu had been rescued, government administrator Gautam Rimal said. The area, which borders Tibet, is popular with tourists.
Dutta, the banker, said that while many of Kathmandu's cement and concrete buildings survived with only minor damage, many of the older buildings, ones made of tile or wood or bricks, have been leveled.
"Things have to return to normal, but it will take time," he said. "No one is ready to do the work needed to recover because of the closeness of the deaths. There is still shock."
with files from Reuters