Nepal Earthquake Death Toll Climbs Above 5,000 as Weather Hinders Relief, Monsoon Looms
Rescue workers seeking to reach people who desperately need help in earthquake-ravaged Nepal face myriad obstacles — and the weather is only making things worse.
In the district of Gorkha, where the 7.8-magnitude quake was centered, a large storm rumbled over the mountainous terrain Tuesday afternoon.
“There was thunder and lightning — water was rushing down the road where I was standing,” said Matt Darvas, an emergency communications officer for the humanitarian group World Vision.
“That essentially shut down helicopter missions for the entire afternoon, except for a small window before sunset,” Darvas, who’s currently in the main town in Gorkha, told CNN on Wednesday.
The canceled helicopter flights meant fewer airdrops of vital supplies to devastated villages and dashed hopes of rescues for injured people in isolated locations.
Makeshift field hospital
Nepalese authorities have so far said 5,016 people died and more than 10,000 were injured as a result of the massive earthquake that struck Saturday. But officials have warned the death toll is expected to rise.
Two neighboring countries, India and China, have reported totals of 72 and 25 deaths from the quake, respectively.
The frequent downpours in Nepal have made it harder for emergency workers to help the injured.
CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta was at an army field hospital in Kathmandu, the capital, when the heavens opened Tuesday.
“The rain has arrived and in many cases this is the worst-case scenario,” he said. “This is what they were hoping wouldn’t happen.”
Pieces of tape held patches in the ceiling as water threatened to bubble in; sheets of canvas served as walls.
Gupta said it was “kind of remarkable what they’ve been able to do” at the makeshift hospital. Over three days, the medical staff there had treated 617 patients and saved 586 of them.
The harsh weather intensifies the hardships for the countless Nepalis who are sleeping out in the open because their homes were destroyed or they don’t feel safe inside buildings amid continuing aftershocks.
The rain also increases the risk of landslides and mudslides across rugged terrain already destabilized by the earthquake’s tremors.
Two landslides were reported Tuesday afternoon in the Langtang region, a popular trekking area north of Kathmandu. As many as 200 people were feared to be missing in each of the two landslides, officials said.
Foreigners are among the missing from one of them, said Gautam Rimal, a senior official in Rasuwa district. He said 210 people had been rescued from the area Wednesday by government helicopters.
According to army officials, dozens of foreigners are among those to have been rescued from the Dhunche area, near Langtang, in the past three days. Other victims, including foreigners, still wait to be brought out.
And the bad weather isn’t expected to give traumatized Nepalis much of a break anytime soon.
“We are staring down the barrel of the approaching monsoon across the subcontinent, and here in Nepal that typically lasts from May through to September,” Darvas said. That can generally mean “heavy downpours every day — and extreme heat,” he added.
Villagers cut off from families
Many people are stuck at the main town in Gorkha, unable to reach their families in villages cut off by the earthquake.
They include Kumar Gurung, a 37-year-old man who has had no word from his wife and four children since the hours after the quake, according to Darvas.
Gurung was on his way to a town 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) away for an animal health training course when the huge earthquake threw his plans into chaos.
Now he can’t get back to his village, Singla, which is perched on a mountain above a cliff face and would take days to reach after landslides blocked roads. Before he lost contact with them, the people in his village told him that at least 70% of the dwellings in the village had been destroyed.
Darvas said that Gurung told him: “I am incredibly sad about this situation and want to rescue not just my family but all of my friends in the village, but I don’t know what to do or how to reach them.”
Local leaders in the main town in Gorkha are “absolutely exhausted and totally stretched” as they try to deal with the crisis in their district, Darvas said.
Their difficulties are being felt by other officials across Nepal. An influx of international aid is struggling to find its way to many of the people in need. Officials have reported logjams at Kathmandu’s airport as well as on the way to badly affected areas.
Anger flares in Kathmandu
In Kathmandu, where the quake felled temples and homes across the city, many people are desperately trying to return to their family homes in the countryside.
The situation has led to angry outbursts at times. On Tuesday, a squad of riot police was deployed in response to a short-lived effort to block traffic as part of a demonstration.
Protesters were shouting “down with the government” and accusing authorities of not doing enough to stop bus companies from hiking their prices following the earthquake. They also complained the government hadn’t done enough to help victims of the disaster.
Police officials said Wednesday that they had deployed troops to help manage the throngs of people seeking transportation out of town and that there had been some reports of looting but no serious breakdown in order.
“People just want to get home,” said Pushparam KC, a spokesman for Nepal’s Armed Police.