KOLKATA, INDIA —
International rescue and relief teams are converging on Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, even as hopes fade that more survivors will be found in the aftermath of a massive quake Saturday that has now claimed more than 4,000 lives.
The capital's airport was so congested with military planes attempting to land that a flight carrying 70 members of Japan's national search-and-rescue team circled futilely and eventually had to be rerouted to Kolkata for refueling.
A second attempt also proved futile, and the plane flew back to Kolkata. Once on the ground, the 292 passengers were told that all available hotel rooms were taken and the flight would return to Bangkok, where it had originated.
Nepali passengers on the plane said they had received text messages from those at Kathmandu airport informing them of a chaotic situation there, with Indian nationals overwhelming the facility, hoping to get on evacuation flights.
Mass cremations of victims
Meanwhile, authorities in Nepal have begun carrying out mass cremations of the earthquake's victims, even as rescuers continued to pull out bodies from under the rubble of destroyed homes and buildings.
Landslides and rubble are blocking aid from reaching more remote communities outside the capital, according to humanitarian agencies in the area and local social media reports. Communication is down in some rural areas, raising concerns the number of casualties will rise.
Dr. Ramesh Guragain, Deputy Executive Director of the National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) in Nepal, told VOA that medical support as well as search and rescue help are needed.
"So far, the search and rescue is limited only to Kathmandu valley," said he.
More tremors expected
The U.S. Geological Survey expects more moderate tremors in the area this week. Ongoing aftershocks pushed Kathmandu residents to sleep in the streets for a second night Sunday, fearing more structural collapse.
Saturday's 7.8 magnitude quake struck 80 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu, leveling large parts of the capital's historic center.
Oxfam executive Helen Szoke told VOA the earthquake is a humanitarian and economic "double hit," destroying infrastructure in the tourism dependent country.
Scores of people also were killed in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and elsewhere along the remote Nepal-Chinese border region.
One source told VOA's Tibetan service that quakes and landslides severely damaged the main highway connecting Tibet to Nepal. The number of dead and injured there remains unclear
The U.S. State Department on Monday confirmed the deaths of two Americans, Thomas Ely Taplin and Vinh B. Truong, at Mt. Everest base camp.
The International Committee of the Red Cross created a website for friends and family to report missing loved ones, or search for those who have checked in.
Kathmandu district chief administrator Ek Narayan Aryal said tents and water were being handed out Monday at 10 locations in Kathmandu, but that aftershocks were leaving everyone jittery. The largest, on Sunday, was magnitude 6.7.
“There have been nearly 100 earthquakes and aftershocks, which is making rescue work difficult. Even the rescuers are scared and running because of them,” Aryal said.
On Monday, rescue teams were scrambling to reach those who need aid, amid looming fears of epidemics and mounting shortages of food and water.
Udav Prashad Timalsina, the top official for the Gorkha district, where Saturday's quake was centered, said he was in desperate need of help. "There are people who are not getting food and shelter. I've had reports of villages where 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed,'' he said.
Nepal’s chief secretary, Lila Mani Poudyal, appealed again for urgent help from the international community, saying they need everything from dry goods to tents and paramedics to expert teams to cope with the aftermath.
Poudyal said the recovery was also being slowed because many workers - water tanker drivers, electricity company employees and laborers needed to clear debris - "are all gone to their families and staying with them, refusing to work."
Worst in living memory
Other Major Earthquakes
A list of notable earthquakes compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey:
July 27, 1976: Tangshan, China, magnitude 7.5. Official casualty figure is 255,000 deaths. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000, 799,000 injured and extensive damage in the area. This is probably the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries, and the second greatest in recorded history.
Jan. 12, 2010: Haiti, 7.0. More than 300,000 people were killed, 300,000 injured, 1.3 million displaced, about 105,000 homes destroyed and 208,000 damaged in the Port-au-Prince area and much of southern Haiti, according to government estimates.
Dec. 26, 2004: Sumatra, 9.1. This is the third-largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska, earthquake. In total, 228,000 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead in 14 countries due to the quake and ensuing tsunami.
Dec. 16, 1920: Haiyuan, Ningxia, China, 7.8. Total destruction in the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. Estimated death toll of 200,000
Sept. 1, 1923: Kanto, Japan, 7.9. Extreme destruction in the Tokyo-Yokohama area from the earthquake and subsequent firestorms, 143,000 dead.
Oct. 5, 1948: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 7.3, 110,000 killed
May 12, 2008: Eastern Sichuan, China, 7.9, 87,600
Oct. 8, 2005: Pakistan, 7.6, 86,000
Dec. 28, 1908: Messina, Italy, 7.2, 72,000.
May 31, 1970: Chimbote, Peru, 7.4, 70,000.
Source: Associated Press
It is the worst disaster in living memory for most Nepal residents. On Monday, distraught people prayed and waited for news of their loved ones as rescuers used everything from pickaxes to bare hands to sift the rubble.
A young couple in Kathmandu told reporters they were out of the house Saturday when the quake struck, and they still didn't know the fate of the two young children they'd left at their home, now buried. The father waited on mounds of rubble, saying he wants to find his children, dead or alive.
Nepal’s capital and other towns all have such heart-wrenching stories. Mass cremations were conducted on Monday as the death toll continued to rise.
Oxfam executive Helen Szoke told VOA the earthquake has given Nepal what she described as a "double hit." She said the country's destroyed infrastructure will not support the tourism industry that Nepal depends on, compounding the humanitarian tragedy.
Hospitals in the Kathmandu area have been overwhelmed with the more than 6,500 people who have been injured.
"There are a lot of patients who have got a devastating injury, including head as well as the amputation of the limbs, whole limb amputations. A lot of devastating injuries including chest, badly chest injuries,” said Dr. Ganesh Gurung, vice counselor of the National Academy of Medial Science.
Communications systems from rural areas have been knocked out and landslides have likely cut off many villages. The death and injury tolls are expected to rise when word comes in from those areas.
Disaster response teams from various countries, including the United States, have deployed to the region to help search, rescue and recovery efforts.
India’s foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said three tons of supplies and 40 members of India's National Disaster Response Force were flying to Nepal. The country is also evacuating its nationals by air.
India’s foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, spoke of heavy traffic on highways leading to Kathmandu, saying that while roads are open, "the traffic is moving very slowly. It is clogged with vehicles ... we are trying to piece together the picture, but it is a very, very difficult situation."
Saturday's earthquake was the strongest in 81 years in Nepal, when an even mightier jolt in 1934 killed more than 10,000 people.
VOA's Tibetan and Mandarin Services contributed to this report. Some material came from Reuters, AP and AFP.