'Terrible scenes of destruction...'
INTERNATIONAL aid groups and governments intensified efforts to get rescuers and supplies into Nepal, where more than 2,400 people were killed when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the capital Kathmandu and neighbouring regions on Saturday.
Asian and European nations as well as the United States sent emergency crews to reinforce those scrambling to find survivors in Kathmandu, and in rural areas cut off by blocked roads and patchy phone networks.
A Singapore search and rescue team was also heading for the Himalayan nation, while members of the Singapore Armed Forces would support the relief efforts with deployment of "suitable resources".
In a statement yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has not received any reports of Singaporeans having been injured.
"We know...many areas - both rural and in some of the larger towns - have suffered landslides and roads are cut off," said Mike Bruce, regional communications manager for Plan International aid organisation, lamenting the inaccessibility of many places.
In Kathmandu, a lack of electricity would soon be complicated by a scarcity of water, aid groups said, with medical supplies also dwindling.
"We witnessed terrible scenes of destruction - hospitals were evacuated with patients being treated on the ground outside, homes and buildings demolished and some roads cracked wide open," said Eleanor Trinchera, Caritas Australia programme coordinator for Nepal.
Oxfam, an international anti-poverty organisation, said mortuaries were reaching capacity.
Survivors slept in the open in Kathmandu overnight, braving the cold for fear of being crushed by the teetering ruins of buildings.
Hundreds of structures, including office blocks and a landmark 60m Dharahara Tower built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, crashed to the ground at around midday on Saturday when the quake struck.
At least 700 people were killed in Kathmandu, a city of about one million people where many homes are old, flimsy and packed close together.
Close to 6,000 people have been injured across the country of 28 million.
The earthquake, centred 80km north-west of Kathmandu, was all the more destructive as it struck just 31km underground.
Rescuers searched frantically yesterday in Kathmandu for survivors of the quake, digging through rubble.
Army officer Santosh Nepal and a group of rescuers worked all night to open a passage into a collapsed building in Kathmandu.
They had to use pickaxes because bulldozers could not get through the ancient city's narrow streets.
"We believe there are still people trapped inside," Mr Nepal said, pointing at concrete debris and twisted reinforcement rods where a three-storey residential building once stood.
Rescue efforts were also hampered by aftershocks, including one registering 6.7 magnitude.
The earthquake and the aftershocks also jolted neighbouring countries, killing some 49 people in India, 17 in China's Tibet region and four in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, snowfall on Saturday thwarted efforts to airlift survivors from a quake-triggered avalanche that hit part of the Everest base camp, killing at least 18 people, although helicopters started landing yesterday.
Another 100 climbers higher up Everest, at camps 1 and 2, were safe but their way back down the mountain was blocked by damage to the treacherous Khumbu icefalls, scene of an avalanche that killed 16 sherpa guides last year.
Google executive Dan Fredinburg was among the climbers confirmed to have been killed on Saturday.
It is the deadliest disaster in Everest's history and came almost exactly a year after last year's killer avalanche.
Journalist Ammu Kannampilly said many of those stranded at the base camp were walking down the mountain rather than risk being stuck for days.
George Foulsham, a Singapore-based marine biologist, described the moment the disaster struck.
"I was outside, saw a 50-storey building of white come at me. I ran and it just flattened me," he said.
"I tried to get up and it flattened me again. I couldn't breathe, I thought I was dead. When I finally stood up, I couldn't believe it passed me over and I was almost untouched."
There is an estimated 300,000 foreign tourists in Nepal at this time of the year.
A Singapore Everest team at the mountain's base camp has decided to wait seven days before assessing whether to continue its bid.
Comprising four trekkers, the team set out with the objective of flying the Singapore flag at the Everest peak to mark SG50, and has trained for about five years for it.
Nepal and the rest of the Himalayas are particularly prone to earthquakes because of the collision of the Indian and Eurasia plates.
A 6.8-magnitude quake hit eastern Nepal in August 1988, killing 721 people, and a 8.1-magnitude quake killed 10,700 people in Nepal and India in 1934.