By Anil Giri
Another tremblor measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale shook Nepal on Sunday causing fresh panic as rescuers pulled out bodies from debris, a day after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake left over 2,300 dead and forced tens of thousands to spend the night on the streets.
As the world rushed emergency aid to Kathmandu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over a high-level meeting in New Delhi after saying: “I can understand what the people of Nepal are going through… My dear brothers and sisters of Nepal, we are with you.”
The home ministry put the fatalities from Saturday’s powerful quake at 2,309 and said another 5,850 people were injured. It is the worst quake to hit Nepal after one in 1934 killed some 8,500 people.
Fearing the continuing aftershocks, many thousands of people spent Saturday night out in the open. Many lay on plastic sheets or cardboard boxes wrapped in blankets. Most ate instant noodles and cookies to ward off the hunger.
Hospitals grappled with soaring number of injuries, the doctors and nurses working non-stop. A UN statement said hospitals were running out of rooms to store bodies and emergency supplies.
The government declared a national calamity and closed down all schools and colleges for a week as it tried to come to grips with a disaster which has enveloped 30 out of 75 districts, including the Kathmandu Valley, a tourist paradise.
Even as an army of soldiers, police personnel and other officials were frantically engaged in relief work, another powerful tremblor occurred on Sunday afternoon, causing aftershocks again in India, Bhutan and Tibet.
The epicentre of Sunday’s earthquake was about 110 km from Kathmandu. It was shallower, at 10 km, compared to the Saturday temblor whose epicentre lay at a depth of 15 km. Saturday’s epicentre lay in Lamjung, about 75 km northwest of Kathmandu.
Thirty-five aftershocks have hit the country since the first earthquake.
The UN office here said around 6.6 million people have been affected in the Himalayan nation. The quake sparked an avalanche in the Mount Everest area, killing scores of mountaineers.
The disaster appeared to spare none, VVIPs included. President Ram Baran Yadav spent Saturday night in a tent with his many guards after the quake caused several cracks in his office-cum-residence.
“President Yadav is still in his tent,” an official said.
The main entrance to the residence of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who hurriedly returned to Nepal from Indonesia on Sunday, was also damaged. So were several government offices in Kathmandu.
Worse, scores of ancient monuments and Hindu temples were destroyed or suffered varying degrees of damage, with one expert lamenting that some of them can never be restored to their original glory.
“We have launched a massive rescue and rehabilitation action plan,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Minendra Rijal said. “Our country is a moment of crisis, and we will require tremendous support and aid.”
At least 723 people perished in Kathmandu alone while 205 others were killed in Bhaktapur, just 13 km from the capital and 125 in Lalitpur, only five kilometres away, the home ministry said.
The government has warned that the death toll was likely to rise.
The disaster brought down historical monuments such as Dharhara tower in Kathmandu while Basantapur Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square were also destroyed.
At the Dharahara tower, rescuers found some 80 bodies, officials said.
The Kantipur Daily said around 80 percent of the temples in Basantapur Durbar Square had been destroyed. These included the Kasthamandap temple, Panchtale temple, the Dasa Avtar temple and Krishna Mandir. Kasthamandap, which inspired the name Kathmandu, is a 16th century wooden monument.
A few other monuments, including the Kumari Temple and the Taleju Bhawani, have partially collapsed.
Modi said he had seen the 2001 earthquake in Kutch in Gujarat from close quarters. “I can understand what the people of Nepal are going through. My dear brothers and sisters of Nepal, we are with you.”
He said India had started reaching assistance to Nepal and sent rescue teams with sniffer dogs to save people buried in the rubble. “For Indians, Nepal’s plight is our plight. We will wipe the tears of every Nepali, hold their hands and give them support.”
The Indian Air Force said it will bring back 1,500 stranded Indians from Nepal on Sunday. Some 540 people were flown back to India on Saturday and Sunday. The air force ferried food, tents, water and medicines to Nepal.
Prime Minister Koirala has appealed to people do donate blood to save the many seriously injured.