The death toll climbed Wednesday from Nepal’s second major earthquake in less than three weeks as officials tried to gauge the scale of the new wave of destruction.
As rescue and relief teams tried to reach remote areas near the epicenter of Tuesday’s magnitude-7.3 quake, a search was also on for a U.S. military helicopter that went missing in the region.
Nepali Home Ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said Wednesday morning that at least 76 people in his country had been killed. The number of injured stood at 1,986, he said. Dozens of people were rescued alive from rubble, according to officials.
Another 17 people were reported dead from the quake in India, and one person in China.
Nepal was already struggling to deal with the aftermath of the devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck the Himalayan nation on April 25, killing more than 8,000 people and flattening entire villages.
‘The land has cracked open’
This week’s quake brought buildings damaged by the earlier disaster crashing to the ground and released a new surge of panic among shell-shocked Nepalis.
The epicenter was in a rugged area of the district of Dolakha, east of the capital, Kathmandu.
“The land has cracked open in many places, many people don’t even have a spot to put their tents,” said Krishna Siwakoti, a farmer who lives near the epicenter.
“The situation is dire. We are isolated,” he told CNN, saying the quake had set off landslides “all around us.”
Heaping destruction upon devastation
Tuesday’s quake struck at the same depth as the April temblor, but it was several times weaker and centered roughly 140 kilometers (85 miles) farther east.
It still managed to wreak fresh havoc in already badly damaged areas.
In Sindupalchowk, a poor district that suffered the heaviest human toll in the April disaster, it set off new landslides. Anil Thapa, a journalist there, reported that multiple houses had fallen.
In Dolakha, Siwakoti said that the April quake brought down about half the 1,400 houses in his area. And then, Tuesday’s temblor flattened most of the rest, leaving just 5% of the houses habitable, he said.
Search for missing U.S. helicopter
Officials said they were still trying to reach some rural areas of Sindupalchowk and Dolakha where they feared the destruction could be severe.
Dolakha is also the district where a U.S. military helicopter with six U.S. Marines and two Nepalis aboard is believed to have gone missing on Tuesday evening.
Aerial and ground searches were underway for the helicopter, which had been helping with earthquake relief efforts when it lost contact.
In Kathmandu, where temples and apartment buildings collapsed in April, the new quake caused more damage to more structures and sent many terrified residents flooding out into the streets.
Once again, encampments of tents sprung up in open areas around the city as people opted to sleep outside rather than risk more tremors from continuing aftershocks. Others, their homes destroyed, had no choice.