A growing sense of despair spread through Kathmandu on Sunday as the devastated Nepali capital was convulsed by aftershocks that sent residents screaming into the streets, where they were pelted by heavy rain.
A day after an earthquake killed more than 2,400 people and injured about 5,900, residents grew frantic, and the government, entirely overwhelmed by the enormousness of the challenge facing the country, struggled to provide relief, or much hope.
Streets in parts of this city of about 1.2 million were impassable not so much from quake damage but because tens of thousands of people took up residence there. It was a strategy endorsed by the government.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was attending a conference in Indonesia when the quake struck, had rushed back to Kathmandu and was to speak in a televised address Sunday. But the speech was delayed, as some relief efforts have been, by strong tremors that continue to rock the country.
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The already difficult situation in much of the capital, where safe shelters are scarce, was made worse Sunday when rains began to pour down on huddled masses.
Police scarce amid chaos
It is increasingly evident that Nepali authorities were ill-equipped to rescue those trapped and would have trouble maintaining adequate supplies of water, electricity and food.
“In my neighborhood, the police are conspicuous by their absence,” said Sridhar Khatri of the South Asia Center for Policy Studies in Kathmandu. “There is not even a show of force to deter vandalism, which some reports say is on the rise.”
On Sunday, the government began setting up 16 relief stations across Kathmandu and the rest of the country while rescue operations continued. The relief stations are expected to ease distribution of water, food and medicine, said Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, a spokesman at the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Electricity has been intermittent at best in Kathmandu – and absent entirely in other parts of Nepal – but that is not wholly unusual in a country where nighttime blackouts are routine.
Many hotels, commercial buildings and wealthy homes in the capital have their own generators. But nearly all of the country’s gas and diesel supplies are brought in from India, and with traffic reduced to a crawl along major highways, those supplies could dwindle quickly. Some gas stations in Kathmandu have already run dry; others are rationing their remaining supplies.
Camping out in streets
Thousands of Kathmandu’s residents camped on streets throughout the city either because their homes were destroyed or because continued aftershocks, including one of magnitude 6.7, left them too afraid to go inside. Other residents stayed at schools, school playgrounds and government offices.
The government announced that schools would remain closed for at least five days, and it pleaded with government workers to help in local rescue efforts in place of their usual jobs.
Stephen Groves, who lives in Kathmandu, said he was inspecting a building for cracks shortly after noon on Sunday when the biggest of many aftershocks hit, leading to terrified screams from those nearby.
“The whole time I was thinking if the building next to me was going to come down on top of me,” Groves said in an email. “People here are in a panic, and every aftershock contributes to that. They are not going indoors, they are staying in the roads and in open areas. Many are searching for family members.”
Groves said he went to a hospital in the capital Saturday, where hordes of people were lying on the ground outside the building, many with intravenous drips hooked up to their arms.
The city was awash with rumors that the worst aftershocks were yet to come and with fears of greater destruction in the countryside, large swaths of which remained unreachable by phone.
Subhash Ghimire, editor in chief of the Nepalese newspaper Republica, said he managed to reach his father in his village, home to about 3,000 people, near the epicenter in the Gorkha district.
“He said not a single house is left in our village, including our own house,” Ghimire said.
Everest climbers rescued
On Mount Everest, helicopter rescue operations began Sunday morning to bring wounded climbers down off the mountain, where at least 18 climbers were killed and another 41 injured, making the earthquake the deadliest event in the mountain’s history. Three Americans were among those killed, according to the U.S. State Department. Aftershocks and small avalanches throughout the day Sunday continued to plague the nearly 800 people staying at the mountain base camp and at higher elevation camps.
After posting on Twitter that he was “fairly safe but stuck” at the base camp, one climber, Jim Davidson, then provided a more alarming update from Camp 1, which is above the base camp. “Just had our biggest aftershock yet here at C1 on Everest. Smaller than original quake but glacier shook & avalanches,” he said.
Susan Parker-Burns, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Embassy in Nepal, said in an email Sunday that a rescue-and-relief team from the U.S. Agency for International Development was dispatched by military transport to Nepal and would arrive Monday.
Also Sunday, the Israeli military said it was preparing to send two Boeing 747s carrying 260 aid workers and more than 90 tons of cargo to Kathmandu.
About 600 Israelis are believed to be in Nepal, a popular destination for young backpackers after their compulsory military service. Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical response organization, had already sent an advance team of 10 paramedics and two doctors to Nepal.
Nepal will most likely require significant help. The country’s existing political discord is likely to hamper rescue and rebuilding efforts. The government has been barely functional for more than a decade, with politicians of just about every stripe fighting over the scraps of the increasingly desperate economy. A 10-year civil war between Maoist parties and the government ended in 2006, but the resulting Constituent Assembly spent four years trying to write a constitution without success. Paralysis ensued until elections in November 2013 led to the unexpected rout of the previously dominant Maoists.
Nepal’s people had already become exhausted with the political paralysis, but those feelings could turn explosive if relief and rescue efforts fail in the coming weeks, analysts said. The fear of such an outcome could spur an intense international relief effort, as an odd collection of countries – including China, India and the United States – were already cooperating on pushing Nepal’s politicians toward compromise.
Samaritan’s Purse sends help
Samaritan’s Purse, the Boone-based Christian charity, deployed a team of 16 disaster response experts, including six medical personnel, to Nepal to assist with efforts to help victims of the massive earthquake. Staff began arriving Sunday and will work with church partners in Nepal to distribute aid.
“We will be helping victims by providing emergency shelter, clean water, hygiene kits and other emergency supplies,” according to Alison Geist, a spokeswoman for Samaritan’s Purse. Initially, the organization is sending supplies for 15,000 households.
For details or to donate, http://tinyurl.com/p2fjnxq.
Other ways to help
UNICEF: The U.N. children’s agency says nearly 1 million children in Nepal need help. Online: http://tinyurl.com/9s4j6rk.
World Food Program: The U.N. program says logistics and emergency response teams have arrived. Online: http://tinyurl.com/oouodgb.
Red Cross: The organization says it is working with the Nepal Red Cross Society. Online: http://tinyurl.com/pvvtwsu.
Save the Children: Save the Children says it has staff in 63 districts. Online: http://tinyurl.com/qecu8mu.
Doctors Without Borders: The group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, says it is sending medical staff, emergency surgical teams, and supplies. Online: http://tinyurl.com/n7mtr3r.