Death toll in Nepal hits 4,000 amid hunt for survivors
The first smoke of the funeral pyres was wafting last night over what remained of Nepal’s magnificent Hindu temples, according to Irish Independent.The three great royal Durbars – the whitewash and red brick squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur – were shattered by Saturday’s earthquake.They can and almost certainly will be rebuilt. But those thousands who cannot be brought back were being sent to the heavens yesterday in traditional and simple ceremonies, against a broken landscape.
The scenes of the dead and – in a few joyful cases – unexpected survivors being pulled grey with dust from the ruins of their homes are all too familiar from earthquakes in poor countries across the world.As always, the fear of what is still to come mixes with shock at what has happened. Torn between their homes and the possibility of aftershocks bringing down whatever remains of the masonry above their heads, residents flocked to public spaces. Everywhere, people embraced each other, and wept.
In Kathmandu, many ended up in the great Maidan of Tundikhel, the vast parade ground in the centre of the city that has served as a focal point for much of Nepal’s idiosyncratic history.Yesterday, survivors gathered here and built a tent city, one of many across the country, unthreatened by stone and cement. At the centre was a stage that had been set up for a yoga camp to be presided over by the popular Indian TV guru Ram Dev. Then the hunt for food and water began.
The conditions of uncertainty, the aftershocks and the failure of infrastructure and especially communications that come with major earthquakes are a breeding ground for rumour.Yesterday, stories repeatedly circulated that an even bigger quake, registering nine or ten on the Richter Scale and due to strike at a variety of times, each repeated with certainty.Even in five-star hotels, guests took their sleeping bags and duvets to the lawns, to bed down there.
The aftershock that did strike, at 6.7, compared to the 7.8 earthquake of Saturday, was bad enough, but the intensity of further attacks from under the earth is likely now to die down.That leaves the disposal of bodies, and the rebuilding of lives. There were some signs that Kathmandu’s modern infrastructure had escaped with less damage than feared by pessimists, who knew an earthquake was likely and worried about the quality of construction.
Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, named after the grandfather of Nepal’s last king deposed by referendum in 2008, reopened for commercial traffic yesterday afternoon, its runway secure.Alarmingly, a Royal Thai Airlines flight from Bangkok landed at the same time as one of the major aftershocks. The air traffic control tower was evacuated, leaving no one to direct it to the gate.
Subsequent flights were diverted until some sort of service resumed.As dusk fell, every available space along the river’s banks and on its sandbank islands had been taken for the pyres, for a hundred metres downstream of the usual cremation spot.Around these funerals, the families, hastily assembling their piles of wood, gathered. The smoke rose and floated over the city, drifting over the new lives of those who had escaped the worst but who, under their plastic and canvas roofs, have uncertain futures ahead.
Meanwhile, As rescuers desperately searched Monday for survivors who may be buried amid the rubble in the Nepalese capital of Katmandu or trapped in remote mountain villages, the death toll soared past 4,000 from Saturday’s massive earthquake. The tally could rise further after officials are able to assess the damage to the communities nestled within the country’s mountains. Efforts to reach those villages have so far been hampered by landslides that have blocked many mountain trails.
Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision, told the Associated Press that many of those villages will be accessible only by helicopter. The tally does not include 18 people killed in an avalanche triggered by the earthquake that buried part of the base camp at Mount Everest, or the 61 people killed in India and 20 reported dead in Tibet. “Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls,” Darvas told the AP.