Rescue teams short of tools, hands in Nepal

A woman and her child, who were injured in Saturday’searthquake, being treated at a hospital in Nepal on Monday.  

The death toll in Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal soared past 4,000 on Monday even as rumours persist that another major earthquake is imminent. About 6,500 people have been injured in the 7.9 magnitude temblor.

Rains and a powerful aftershock late in the night sent a fresh wave of panic in the capital. Thousands of tourists and locals are desperately searching for a way out of Kathmandu, where a roof over their heads and provisions are in short supply.

During the day the incessant rain of the previous night abated, as the capital took stock of the damage and stepped up relief operations. As of 2 p.m. the death toll in the capital stood at 1302.

Going around the city there seemed no obvious logic as to why some houses survived the massive earthquake on Saturday and the aftershocks on Sunday, while others crumbled. In a narrow lane in Thamel for example, a six-storey building called the Budget Hotel came crashing down even as those around, many even older, stayed intact. A team of Nepali armed police force (APF) oversees the rescue mission and it says that five dead bodies, including that of one Indian woman, were retrieved while miraculously, an Iranian man was pulled out alive after a day and a half.

Searching among the rubble for any sign of his bags or documents, Simon, a French tourist, says he was sleeping on the 6th floor the morning the hotel collapsed but had gone sightseeing at the now destroyed Basantapur Durbar square. “Monuments were falling all around us and I jumped under a police truck. When I came back here I was shocked to see the entire building collapsed. I escaped with my life twice,” he says.

Complex operations

In the nearby Gangobu area, APF teams mount complex rescue operations but are hamstrung by a lack of equipment and manpower.

In one five-storey house, three officers are trying to extract two bodies trapped between the beams inside. “We only have a chainsaw. If we cut the beams then the whole house may collapse,” a commanding officer explains.

They need cranes and cables but such equipment is in short supply.

Locals pitch in with bare hands

The Nepali armed police force (APF), a commanding officer explains, has only 550 officers who are trained in disaster management. The rest provide support to them however they can.

In a fallen structure in Gangobu, a team of neighbourhood locals have mounted an operation using just their bare hands and some helmets borrowed from the APF. It was too long to wait for the official forces so something had to be done.

The bodies, when they come out, are sent to the already overflowing teaching hospital from where most are swiftly dispatched to crematoriums.

Many of the people who live in areas like Gangobu and Thamel explain that the major destruction has taken place in the villages outside the city, where they have families. “About 95 per cent of the homes there have been destroyed. And everyone says not to go there as the roads are also cracked,” says Madhav Pokhril, a 24-year-old school teacher. As Kathmandu slowly puts itself back together, the focus will now be on the villages close to the epicentre.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 9:31:52 PM |

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