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Race to save buried survivors

CLOCK'S TICKING: Rescuers clearing rubble in Kathmandu's Durbar Square, which was damaged by the quake. The death toll is likely to rise as rescuers struggle to reach remote regions in the country of 28 million people.


    Apr 28, 2015

    Race to save buried survivors


    TENS of thousands of frightened Nepalese huddled in tent cities yesterday, desperate for help after a quake that killed more than 3,800 people, as international rescue teams with sniffer dogs raced to find survivors buried in the rubble.

    Teams equipped with heavy cutting gear and relief supplies were landing round the clock at the nation's only international airport on the outskirts of Kathmandu, which has been devastated by Saturday's 7.8-magnitude quake.

    The toll is likely to rise as rescuers struggle to reach remote regions in the country of 28 million people and as bodies buried under rubble are recovered.

    Families and elderly people filled parks and other open spaces in Kathmandu after losing their houses, with powerful aftershocks making others too terrified to return home.

    "This is a nightmare, why don't these aftershocks stop?" asked 70-year-old Sanu Ranjitkar as she sat under a tarpaulin.

    With just sheets of plastic to protect them from the cold and rain, many said they were desperate for aid and information on what to do next.

    Sick and wounded people were also lying out in the open, unable to find beds in the city's hospitals.

    Nepal has only 2.1 physicians and 50 hospital beds for every 10,000 people, according to a 2011 World Health Organisation report.

    Long queues formed outside petrol stations while supermarkets were seeing a run on staples such as rice and cooking oil.

    A government official said tonnes of clean water and other essential supplies were needed for the survivors.

    The United Nations Children's Fund said nearly one million children in Nepal were severely affected by the quake, and warned of waterborne and infectious diseases.

    There were also thousands fleeing Kathmandu yesterday, terror-stricken by the aftershocks and the shortages of necessities.

    Roads leading out of the city were jammed with people, some with babies in their arms, trying to climb onto buses or hitch a ride aboard cars and trucks to the plains.

    Huge queues had formed at the Tribhuvan International Airport, with tourists and residents desperate to get a flight out.

    "I'm even willing to sell the gold I'm wearing to buy a ticket, but there is nothing available," said Rama Bahadur, an Indian woman who works in Nepal's capital.

    In the ancient temple town of Bhaktapur, east of Kathmandu, many residents were living in tents in a school compound after centuries-old buildings collapsed or developed huge cracks.

    "We have become refugees," said Sarga Dhaoubadel, a management student.

    They were subsisting on instant noodles and fruit, she said.

    High in the Himalayas, hundreds of climbers were staying put at Mount Everest base camp, where a huge avalanche after the earthquake killed at least 18 people.

    Rescue helicopters yesterday began airlifting climbers from higher altitudes on the mountain, where they were stranded above crevasses and icefalls, after evacuating scores of seriously injured people from base camp the day before.

    "It is possible that climbing might not continue this year. However, there has been no official decision," said Tourism Department head Tulsi Gautam.

    Reconstruction efforts in impoverished Nepal could cost more than US$5 billion (S$6.7 billion), or around 20 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, according to Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at business research firm IHS.

    Meanwhile, plans to evacuate Singaporeans out of Nepal have been delayed as three Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 planes did not land due to congestion at Kathmandu's airport yesterday.

    The planes were diverted to Calcutta and Patna in India.

    On board the planes are nearly 50 people from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre's advance team, as well as relief aid.