BRITAIN, India and the US have offered help in the rescue effort in Nepal following the devastating earthquake that killed more than 1,300 people - a toll officials said would rise as the desperate search for survivors continued into the early hours of Sunday (April 26).
Thousands of people braved freezing temperatures to sleep on pavements, in parks or in fields, too afraid to return to homes damaged by a 7.9 magnitude quake which struck at midday on Saturday (April 25).
“We have launched a massive rescue and rehabilitation action plan and lots needs to be done,” said information and broadcasting minister Minendra Rijal.
“Our country is in a moment of crisis and we will require tremendous support and aid,” he told Indian television.
The home ministry said the death toll had reached 1,382. A police spokesman said more than 630 of them were killed in Kathmandu Valley and at least 300 more in the capital.
Kathmandu was severely damaged, and the historic nine-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among buildings brought down.
At least a dozen bodies were taken away from the ruins of the 19th-century tower, according to a photographer who saw similar scenes of multiple casualties throughout the city.
“Deaths have been reported from all regions except the far west. All our security personnel have been deployed to rescue and assist those in need,” Nepal police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam said.
Around 300,000 foreign tourists were estimated to be in various parts of Nepal for the spring trekking and climbing season in the Himalayas, and officials were overwhelmed by calls from concerned friends and relatives.
Foreign climbers and their Nepalese guides around Mount Everest were caught by the tremors and a huge avalanche. Some took to social media to send desperate messages for assistance, warning that otherwise more people would die.
An Indian army mountaineering team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest, where an avalanche unleashed by the earthquake swept through base camp. More than 1,000 climbers had gathered there at the start of the climbing season.
A tourism official, Mohan Krishna Sapkota, said it was “hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage” around Everest could be.
“The trekkers are scattered all around the base camp and some had even trekked further up. It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone.”
In India, 42 people were known to have died, including 30 in Bihar, while buildings in the capital New Delhi had to be evacuated.
Offers of help poured in from governments around the world, with the United States and the European Union announcing they were sending in disaster response teams to the Himalayan nation.
India dispatched two military transport planes to help with the rescue and relief efforts and there were similar offers from Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said a disaster response was being flown to Nepal and that President Barack Obama’s administration had authorised an initial $1 million “to address immediate needs.”
Britain, Germany, Norway and Spain also pledged support and assistance.
Among Kathmandu’s landmarks destroyed in the earthquake was the 60-metre-high (100-foot) Dharahara Tower, built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, with a viewing balcony that had been open to visitors for the last 10 years.
A jagged stump 10 metres high was all that was left of the lighthouse-like structure. As bodies were pulled from the ruins, a policeman said up to 200 people had been trapped inside.
Across the city, rescuers scrabbled through the rubble of destroyed buildings, among them ancient, wooden Hindu temples.
“I can see three bodies of monks trapped in the debris of a collapsed building near a monastery,” Indian tourist Devyani Pant said. “We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped.”
The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck 77 kilometres (48 miles) northwest of Kathmandu at 0611 GMT, with walls crumbling and families racing outside their homes. Centred east of the second city, Pokhara, the quake was all the more destructive for being shallow. It tore through the middle of highways in the capital and also caused damage to the country’s only international airport which was briefly closed.
Nepal and the rest of the Himalayas are particularly prone to earthquakes because of the collision of the Indian and Eurasia plates.
The thrust of the India plate beneath Eurasia generates a large amount of seismic activity, the USGS says on its website.