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“The death toll has reached 1170,” Nepal police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told AFP. The earthquake, the biggest to hit Nepal in more than 80 years, struck at 11.56am (4.11pm AEST) yesterday about 80km northeast of the capital, bringing down walls, ripping up roads and destroying historic buildings in Kathmandu including the ancient Dharhara tower in the centre of the old city.
The tower, where kings were once crowned, is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and local media were reporting yesterday that as many as 50 people were trapped in the rubble. Television footage showed rescue workers dragging bodies from the rubble and civilians clawing through the bricks and dust with their hands. Many more were also believed trapped last night in the ancient city of Bakhtapur, the Nepalese capital until the 15th century.
The Australian embassy in Kathmandu also sustained damage just hours after it hosted Anzac Day events with several outer walls of the compound collapsed. Australian Embassy staff are understood to have put up tents for at least a dozen Australian citizens stranded in Kathmandu after hotels evacuated guests but it is not yet known whether any Australians are among the casualties. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said consular officials were still gathering information and were expected to release a statement overnight.
A magnitude 6.6 aftershock hit about an hour later and as many as 20 smaller aftershocks have been felt across the region in the hours since forcing thousands of people in Kathmandu to spend the night outside. The Nepali government has declared a state of emergency in all affected areas and appealed for international humanitarian assistance, with Nepali Information Minister Minendra Rijal describing “massive damage” at the epicentre.
“We need support from the various international agencies which are more knowledgable and equipped to handle the kind of emergency we now face,” he said. The death toll has been rising steadily in the hours since the quake hit one of Asia’s poorest nations, with Nepal’s deputy inspector general of police Komal Singh Bam warning last night it would continue to rise in the days to come. The vast majority of casualties are in Kathmandu, a closely-built city now teeming with foreign tourists who flock to the country for the spring trekking and climbing season.
Also among the dead are believed to be as many as 13 people perished on Everest after the quake triggered a massive avalanche that swept through base camp at the height of the climbing season. One climber, Alex Gavan, reported running for his life as ice and rock came crashing down and last night posted a desperate plea on Twitter for emergency rescue. “Helped searched and rescued victims through huge debris area. Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap,” he posted.
Pictures posted on the social networking site show a flattened camp site with belongings and large rocks strewn across the thick snow. Nepali tourist official, Mohan Krishna Sapkota said: “We are facing a tremendous crisis here and it is hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage could be.” About 300,000 international tourists are estimated to be in Nepal and officials have been overwhelmed with calls from worried family and friends.
In India, where the quake was felt across the north of the country and at least 35 people were killed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered an immediate dispatch of relief and medical teams to Nepal, and the evacuation of all Indians. The Kathmandu airport was last night crowded with thousands of people attempting to leave the stricken city. The quake was felt across South Asia, from northern India to Punjab province in Pakistan, Tibet and Bangladesh.
The largest earthquake to hit Nepal in recorded history was in 1934, which is thought to have killed around 10,600 people. “Our focus is on rescue in the core areas of Kathmandu where the population is concentrated,” metropolitan police spokesman Dinesh Acharya told AFP. “Many houses and buildings have collapsed,” he said The quake tore through the middle of highways in the capital and also caused damage to the country’s only international airport, in a potential blow to relief efforts.
The airport’s general manager, Birendra Prasad Shrestha, said it would remain closed “for safety reasons” at least until later in the afternoon. Kari Cuelenaere, an official at the Dutch embassy, said that the impact had swept the water out of a swimming pool at a Kathmandu hotel where Dutch national was being celebrated. “It was horrible, all of a sudden all the water came up out of the pool and drenched everyone, the children started screaming. Some parts of the city fell down, there was dust rising … there were many [rescue] helicopters.’’
Witnesses and media reports said the tremors lasted between 30 seconds and two minutes and were felt across the across the border in India, including in the capital New Delhi. “We are in the process of finding more information and are working to reach out to those affected, both at home and in Nepal,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
The AFP office in Delhi was evacuated twice following the quake. Laxman Singh Rathore, director-general of the Indian Meteorological Department, told reporters that the impact had been felt across large areas of the country. “The intensity was felt in entire north India. More intense shocks were felt in eastern UP (Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar, equally strong in sub-Himalayan West Bengal, Sikkim,” he said.
The earthquake was also felt across large areas of Bangladesh, triggering panic in the capital Dhaka as people rushed out onto the streets. In the garment manufacturing hub of Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, at least 50 workers were injured after the quake set off a stampede in a garment factory, according to the private Jamuna television. A 6.9-magnitude quake hit north-eastern India in 2011, rocking neighbouring Nepal and killing 110 people.
Climbers caught in earthquake on Everest
An avalanche at Mount Everest base camp triggered by a massive earthquake killed at least 13 people, including foreign climbers, a Nepalese official said. “We don’t have the details yet, but 10 have been reported dead so far, including foreign climbers,” Gyanendra Kumar Shrestha from Nepal’s tourism department told AFP. AFP Nepal bureau chief Ammu Kannampilly said she was caught in the earthquake that ripped though large parts of the country.
“We got caught in an earthquake on Everest. We are both okay … snowing here so no choppers coming,” she said in an SMS on approach to base camp while on assignment. Two experienced mountaineers reported that panic erupted at base camp which was full of climbing teams and had been “severely damaged”, while one said the quake triggered a “huge avalanche”. “Running for life from my tent. Unhurt. Many many people up the mountain,” tweeted Romanian climber Alex Gavan who had been preparing to climb up nearby Lhotse, the world’s fourth highest mountain.
Another climber Daniel Mazur said his team was trapped at camp one higher up the mountain in the wake of the earthquake. “A massive earthquake just hit Everest. Base camp has been severely damaged. Our team is caught in Camp 1. Please pray for everyone,” he also tweeted. Everest was hit by an avalanche last year that killed 16 guides and triggered an unprecedented shutdown of the mountain.
About 700 climbers are in Solukhumbhu district that includes Everest, with 300 thought to be at base camp itself, deputy superintendent of police Chandra Dev Rai said. “We are trying to reach them to see if they are safe, but the phones are not working,” he told AFP from Solukhumbhu town through which climbers pass en route to the mountain.