Survivors feel abandoned at dark heart of Nepal quake
While the joyous rescue of two survivors reinvigorated the search for further signs of life in the ruins of Kathmandu, the Red Cross warned of “total devastation” in far-flung areas of the poor Himalayan nation.
Six days on from the 7.8-magnitude quake, authorities put the number of dead in Nepal at 6,204 while around 100 more were killed in neighbouring India and China.
But the full extent of the destruction wrought by Nepal’s deadliest earthquake in more than 80 years was still emerging as relief workers struggled to reach mountainous districts.
The destruction appeared particularly dire in the Sindhupalchowk region, northeast of Kathmandu, where the sense of desperation was mounting.
– Collapsed hospital –
“One of our teams that returned from Chautara in Sindhupalchowk district reported that 90 percent of the homes are destroyed,” said Jagan Chapagain, Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“The hospital has collapsed, and people are digging through the rubble with their hands in the hope that they might find family members who are still alive.”
AFP journalists in another part of Sindhupalchowk saw utter devastation.
“Almost every house in my village is destroyed, and 20 people died. We lost our cattle and our sheep,” said Kumar Ghorasainee, amid the ruins of his hometown of Melamchi.
The 33-year-old English teacher said the school had collapsed and there was nowhere for the children to go.
“No one has come to help us — the cars and the aid trucks just drive by … How will we manage now?”
In Melamchi, shops and restaurants were closed and streets were mainly deserted.
In nearby rice-farming communities, almost all the houses had been so severely damaged that they were no longer habitable, and locals were sleeping in makeshift tents.
Although international relief organisers say the operation to reach rural areas is intensifying, people in Melamchi had received nothing.
– ‘No one stops’ –
“We see the helicopters, we see the planes, but no one stops here,” 23-year-old farmer Shalik Ram Ghorasainee.
“We read the news about foreign aid … and we are hopeful. But in reality no one comes here, we are completely unknown,” he added.
Ghorasainee described how one Japanese aid team driving past his village had spotted a local man collapsed by the side of the road. They stopped to give him two painkillers, and then drove on, he said.
Rescuers from more than 20 countries have been searching for survivors, working alongside Nepalese emergency teams.
French, Norwegian and Israeli rescuers took part in a successful operation to extract a woman late Thursday from the ruins of a building in Kathmandu, close to where a 15-year-old had been earlier pulled to safety.
After spending 10 hours trying to free Krishna Khadka, the rescuers greeted her emergence from the rubble with whoops of joy. A doctor told AFP on Friday that she remains in intensive care.
The earlier rescue of 15-year-old Pemba Tamang, who told AFP that he stayed alive by eating a jar of ghee (clarified butter), was hailed as a miracle by medics who said he had suffered only cuts and bruises.
The rescues offered a rare respite from the grim reports mounting elsewhere.
Locals in Gorkha district said their misery was being compounded by terrifying aftershocks that were still being felt.
– ‘Ground still shakes’ –
“The ground still shakes a little every day. We don’t know when we are alive, when we are dead,” Gopal Gurung told AFP in the village of Laprak as an Indian helicopter delivered supplies.
“We are not protected, it is raining all the time, (we don’t) know what can happen. Scared, people scared now,” he said in broken English.
The UN’s food agency appealed for $8 million to help farmers and avert a crisis in the food supply ahead of the rice planting season which should begin in late May.
“There is a critical window of opportunity to help crop producers plant in time to have a rice harvest this year,” said Somsak Pipoppinyo, the Food and Agricultural Organization’s representative in Nepal.
Nepal’s government, which admits to being overwhelmed by the disaster, hoped more relief supplies could be delivered by air.
“Helicopters are being deployed to reach geographically difficult locations,” home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told AFP.
In Kathmandu, thousands of people were still fleeing the city back to their home villages, with a senior transport department official putting the total number at 603,000.
“People want to be with their families (and) reconstruct their damaged properties outside (Kathmandu),” Madhu Sudan Burlakoti told AFP.