Nepal toll crosses 3,200; thousands sleep in the open

Anil Giri   |  Kathmandu


Hundreds of thousands of people spent a second night out in the open here and elsewhere in Nepal as the death toll in the devastating earthquake crossed 3,200 on Monday.

More than 6,000 men, women and children have also been officially listed injured, many seriously, in the 7.9 magnitude quake that flattened several buildings and shrines in the Kathmandu Valley and nearby districts.

An official admitted to IANS that there was no precise figure about the numbers taking shelter in relief centres but estimated that this could be as high as two million.

Backed by international efforts, Nepal's soldiers, police personnel and rescuers battled against heavy odds to try rescue those who might still be trapped under debris -- and dig out the dead.

The shortage of electricity since the Saturday temblor, the worst to hit Nepal after 1934, has compounded the crisis.

Rameshwor Dangal, head of Nepal's disaster management division, put the latest death toll at 3,218 and said around 6,500 were injured. An official warned that the numbers were feared to go up further.

Foreigners too have been badly hit. Authorities in Canberra said more than Over 300 Australians were still missing in Nepal.

The cabinet has declared 29 out of 70 districts as crisis zones. The worst hit is the Kathmandu Valley, a tourist paradise.

The disaster has severely hit communications all across the Himalayan nation, making it tough for foreigners stranded in Nepal to contact their families in other countries.

Families after families in Kathmandu, which continued to suffer aftershocks, have been camping in the open since Saturday, relying on food supplied by charitable organisations.

Kathmandu, a resident said, resembled a mass open camp, with people sleeping on blankets, plastic sheets and cardboard.

One Kathmandu resident who did not want to be identified by name told IANS: "My six-month-old daughter and seven-year-son and my wife are taking shelter in a nearby school since Sunday afternoon. I am also there."

Considering the extent of devastation and lack of proper communication, the rescue and relief operation is seen by some as sluggish.

But rescuers were doing their best, others said, entering nearly toppled buildings to rescue the injured and the barely living.

Few vehicles plied on the streets due to fears of aftershocks. Domestic flights have been suspended since Sunday. Schools have been shut for five days, and courts for three days.

Five civil servants from the revenue service perished inside a government building.

The central Nepal Rastra Bank also suffered damage due to the earthquake but the treasury was safe, the bank said.

Barring those engaged in rescue and relief work, no one has gone to work since the Saturday earthquake.

An official said some two million people had taken shelter in the Kathamandu Valley in school buildings and open grounds. Social groups are providing them food and drinking water.

"The situation is really chaotic," added another Kathmandu resident.

Some hospitals continued to treat the injured in the open due to fear of aftershocks that have already caused cracks in the buildings.

The Saturday quake also jolted India, Bangladesh and Tibet.

Nepal has sought assistance from the international community, both to save those still trapped under the debris and to rebuild the country. - IANS