Kathmandu: The toll in the devastating earthquake in Nepal rose to 4,680 on Tuesday evening, as Prime Minister Sushil Koirala warned it could go as high as 10,000. While still battling food and water shortages, the Himalayan nation announced three days of mourning from Wednesday.
With many of the thousands injured in critical condition and hundreds still missing, the fatalities from Saturday’s 7.9 magnitude temblor could soar up to 10,000, Koirala told the envoys of India, China and the US here.
Around 9,000 people have been injured in the quake, Nepal Police officials said. “It’s a frightening situation,” a senior official told IANS.
Koirala’s alarming assessment came as an army of rescuers – Nepalese as well as foreigners – worked feverishly to look for people who may still be buried under tonnes of debris that came crashing down on Saturday.
According to the ministry for home affairs, army personnel from India, Britain, Germany, Sri Lanka, China, Turkey, the Netherlands, Poland, France, Israel, Japan and Malaysia were engaged in search and rescue operations in various parts of Nepal.
At least eight personnel of the Nepalese Army have died, 11 were reported missing, while 28 were injured in accidents during rescue operations conducted after Saturday’s massive earthquake, army spokesperson Brig. Jagadish Chandra Pokhrel said.
But even as international aid poured in, with volunteers reaching some of the remotest parts of the landlocked nation, it became clear that the earthquake may turn out to be worse than the one that claimed over 8,000 lives in 1934 in Nepal.
The UN said the quake had impacted eight million in 39 districts, of which over two million live in 11 most severely affected districts.
Koirala on Tuesday announced three days of mourning from Wednesday.
Addressing the nation, he called for unity among the Nepalese people during this national crisis.
“At a time when development was taking place at a strong pace, the earthquake has added serious challenges to us,” he said.
He admitted to shortcomings of resources and technology, adding “we have learnt a very hard lesson from this national crisis”.
Koirala also urged all citizens to engage in the rescue effort, while remaining calm and patient.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahendra Bahadur Pandey thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for all help from India.
“We really appreciate what Narendra Modi is doing for us. The kindness and affection he is showing to us is amazing,” he said.
“We will not forget what Modi-ji is doing for us. We do not have any words to thank the Indian PM.”
The Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders said after an initial survey that sanitation conditions were worsening, particularly outside of Kathmandu, due to lack of toilets and clean water.
Officials and rescuers warned that rains predicted over the next 10 days would add to human misery, hampering relief efforts. It could also lead to further health problems.
Even as it sought more aid from the international community, Nepal on Tuesday requested all countries and international organisations not to send relief material unilaterally to “ensure effective coordination”.
The government said the relief materials highly required now were tents, mattresses, blankets, water purifiers, sanitation kits, utensils, medical teams, medical experts and paramedics.
In the Kathmandu Valley, small grocery shops finally reopened on Tuesday but large businesses and banks remain closed. ATMs are functional but they are not getting fresh replenishment of cash.
Power supply in Kathmandu is limited. Most households and offices rely on generator power.
With fuel reserves running low, cars and trucks lined up at most gas stations.
The dead in the quake include people from India, China, Australia, France and the US. Since Saturday, thousands have been cremated near the famed Pashupatinath temple here.
Nepal also grappled with an acute water scarcity. In Kathmandu, women holding plastic buckets stood in long queues near mobile water tankers to take their share.
Many of the thousands of men, women and children who spent a third chilly night out in the open in Kathmandu were in the same clothes they were in when they fled their homes on Saturday.
Many people are using plastic sheets and cardboards to sleep on. Blankets have become a much sought after luxury.
Hospitals are overwhelmed and treating many of the wounded in the open due to lack of space. Some have reported cases of diarrhoea. Medical waste has also started accumulating in various hospitals, said Basudev Pandey at the main hospital at Patan, near Kathmandu.