KATHMANDU: Hundreds of people were feared killed in Nepal yesterday after a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake ripped through large parts of the country, toppling office blocks and towers in the panic-stricken capital Kathmandu.
“The death toll based on information received on our network across the country has reached 449,” national police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told AFP.
“Deaths have been reported from all regions except the far west. All our security personnel have been deployed to rescue and assist those in need.”
There were also reports of an avalanche at Mount Everest’s base camp in Nepal where scores of mountaineers have gathered at the start of the annual climbing season.
“In Kathmandu 71 have been reported dead so far,” home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told AFP as the scale of the disaster began to emerge. Another 43 had been reported dead in the nearby Bhaktapur district, he added.
At least a dozen bodies were taken away from the ruins of Kathmandu’s landmark Dharahara tower, according to an AFP photographer who saw similar scenes of multiple casualties in other parts of the city.
While contact with Nepal was sporadic, a senior Nepalese diplomat warned that the final toll could run into many hundreds.
“We have received reports that there is a big loss of property and life in Nepal,” Krishna Prasad Dhakal, the deputy chief of mission at Nepal’s Embassy in New Delhi, told AFP.
“Possibly hundreds of people have died in various parts of the country, particularly in Kathmandu and Pokhara.”
At least three people were known to have died in northern India while buildings in the capital New Delhi had to be evacuated.
at 0611 GMT, with walls crumbling and families racing outside their homes.
“The walls of houses have collapsed around me onto the road. All the families are outside in their yards huddled together,” an AFP reporter said in Kathmandu.
“Everything started shaking. Everything fell down. The walls around the main road have collapsed. The national stadium’s gates have collapsed,” Anupa Shrestha said.
“Our focus is on rescue in the core areas of Kathmandu where the population is concentrated,” said metropolitan police spokesman Dinesh Acharya.
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,” Cuelenaere told AFP.
“Some parts of the city fell down, there was dust rising… There were many (rescue) helicopters. I can still see many high-rise buildings standing, I think we were lucky,” added Cuelenaere.
Aftershock tremors could be felt more than two hours after the initial quake. Initially measured at 7.5 magnitude, the quake was later adjusted to 7.9, with a depth of 15 kilometres, the USGS said.