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Nepal earthquake: Aftershocks hamper search for survivors

Monday, April 27, 2015 - 07:38
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Dozens of aftershocks in Nepal on Sunday hampered efforts to find survivors of a more powerful earthquake the day before that killed more than 2,300 people and injured as many as 5,000, with the toll still mounting.

[NEW DELHI] Dozens of aftershocks in Nepal on Sunday hampered efforts to find survivors of a more powerful earthquake the day before that killed more than 2,300 people and injured as many as 5,000, with the toll still mounting.

A magnitude 6.7 aftershock was followed by one of 5.3 magnitude after nightfall. Close to 50 aftershocks have been logged since Saturday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake, adding to the chaos as panicked residents avoid returning to damaged homes.

Rain has slowed power restoration and other relief efforts, including the clearing away of corpses, raising concern about the potential for outbreaks of disease.

The new tremors prompted authorities to temporarily halt flights into Kathmandu, the capital, where thousands of people are now camping outdoors.

The main earthquake that struck shortly before noon on Saturday triggered avalanches on Mount Everest, killing at least 19 foreign climbers including a Google product manager.

"Rescue teams are looking for those buried - the priority is looking for survivors," Tirtha Raj Wagle, an official at Nepal's embassy in New Delhi, said on Sunday.

The International Monetary Fund, humanitarian groups and governments from China to India to Israel rushed to provide assistance to Nepal, one of Asia's poorest countries. While the temblor also downed buildings and took lives in neighboring India, Tibet and China, it was Nepal that suffered the brunt.

"We need the ability to bring clean water to the people that need it most, in a place where cholera is endemic," Chris Skopec, a senior director of emergency preparedness at the International Medical Corps, a nonprofit relief agency, said on CBS television's "Face the Nation" program on Sunday.

The US Geological Survey initially estimated economic losses to Nepal from the quake at 9 per cent to 50 per cent of gross domestic product, with a best guess of 35 per cent.

Tourism is a key economic driver for Nepal, which has a gross domestic product that is smaller than any of the 50 US states. Its 28 million people have the lowest spending power of any Asian country apart from Afghanistan, IMF statistics show.

At Mount Everest, many climbers remain stranded in two camps above the base camp, said Zimba Zangbu Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. The injured and survivors are being airlifted from the base camp to Kathmandu, according to Ang Tshering Sherpa, the association's current president.

Widespread rains are forecast to hit Nepal over the next 24 hours, threatening to further hinder relief efforts, the India Meteorological Department said on Sunday. It warned citizens to be beware of possible landslides.

"People will be terrified to be indoors. It means then that people will be exposed the the elements," Orla Fagan of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on "Face the Nation" from Bangkok.

Damage to Nepal's water and sewage systems raises the possibility of water-borne diseases, Ms Fagan said. "At this stage we're talking about really life-saving response." Separately, the UN children's fund, UNICEF, estimated that about 1 million children in the quake area need help.

Missing Neighboring India will rush more relief and rescue personnel to Nepal and increase supplies of medicine and food for the quake affected, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters in New Delhi on Sunday. The country will also set up medical camps along its border with Nepal, he said.

A website backed by the International Committee of the Red Cross listed hundreds of foreign tourists in Nepal who remained missing. Google said it had started a "person finder" tool to help track people missing in the earthquake, and would commit $1 million to its response.

Daniel Fredinburg, an executive with Google's privacy team and self-described "adventurer/engineer," died of a head injury on Mount Everest, his sister wrote on the social media site Instagram. He was traveling with the U.K.-based expedition company Jagged Globe, which said in a statement on its website that Sherpa guides and team members other than Fredinburg were safe, including two with non-life-threatening injuries. At least two other US climbers are believed to have died.

"Some duffels from expedition members were tossed for more than a football field's length. Expedition boots, dining tent frames, and ice axes were tossed far across the glacier too," US climber Jon Kedrowski wrote on his blog Sunday about the mayhem at basecamp.

Hundreds of people attempt to reach Everest's summit each year, typically paying a minimum of US$30,000 per person and often far more for the privilege, according to an estimate by Outside magazine. The rising numbers of climbers has drawn complaints about overcrowding, littering and heightened danger. April is a peak month for climbing.

The Himalayan region is one of the world's most active seismic zones as the Indian subcontinent pushes north into the central Asia tectonic plate. The 1934 earthquake in Nepal, just west of Sikkim, killed more than 16,000 people. A 2005 quake in Kashmir killed more than 70,000 in Pakistan.

Many Nepalese reside in unreinforced brick masonry structures. The country's shoddy building standards and lack of preparedness for a major earthquake were the subjects of an international conference in Kathmandu earlier this month.

Television images showed rescuers pulling out people who were trapped under the 19th century Dharahara Tower, a nine- story structure in Kathmandu that collapsed.

"It was so powerful and the entire house was shaking, so we got out," said Sila Gurung, 28, who lives in a three-story home with her mother in Kathmandu's Nakhipot district, close to the popular tourist site Patan Durbar Square. "Everyone is very scared, and no one knows when it will be safe to go back home." A US military aircraft left for Nepal on Sunday from Delaware with almost 70 people including search and rescue teams, as well as 45 tons of cargo, said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

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