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Nepal earthquake: Death toll passes 4,400 as rescuers face challenges

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Posted at 8:01 AM, Apr 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-28 08:01:49-04

KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) — More than 4,400 people dead. Over 8,000 injured. Eight million affected across Nepal. One million children urgently in need of help.

Those are the startling numbers that indicate the scale of the devastation from the huge earthquake that struck the Himalayan nation on Saturday.

And some of the grim figures are likely to get even worse as hopes of rescuing any more survivors diminish every hour.

Heartbreaking scenes of suffering and loss are playing out across this shell-shocked nation as it reels from its deadliest natural disaster in more than 80 years.

In Kathmandu, a capital city of shattered temples and toppled houses, some people paid their last respects to loved ones taken by the quake.

By the Bagmati river, which winds through the city, more than a dozen funeral pyres burned Monday.

As workers stoked the flames for the Hindu cremation ceremonies, some mourners shaved their heads — a traditional show of mourning from children who lose their parents.

Alongside their father, two teenage brothers from the Gurung family, Ishan and Iman, said goodbye to their mother, Ishara.

“We never imagined this would happen to us. This much pain,” said Ishan, the elder of the two.

‘Many people are crying’

Elsewhere in the city, many shaken residents are sleeping in the open — some have lost their homes, others are afraid to stay in buildings that may be vulnerable to aftershocks.

Large encampments of tents have sprung up in open areas, including a wide space belonging to the military in the center of the city that is typically used for parades. One of the grand gates to the field is now just a pile of rubble.

Kisnor Raj Giri, a 22-year-old man from Kathmandu who lost members of his extended family in the quake, said he was too scared to return home.

He is camping out at the military grounds with thousands of others even though frequent rain has made the nights an ordeal.

“Many people are crying, sharing their hardships,” he told CNN on Monday evening.

The elements showed no mercy to the homeless masses on Tuesday as thunderstorms rumbled over Kathmandu — and more bad weather is forecast for the region in the coming days.

Official: Death toll expected to rise further

The death toll in Nepal stood at 4,352 Tuesday morning, according to the country’s Home Ministry. Another 72 people died in India, while China reported 25 deaths.

Most of the casualty numbers in Nepal are believed to have come mainly from Kathmandu and the surrounding area. They are expected to climb further as information emerges from more remote areas.

“We have incomplete information, but we apprehend the death toll will go up,” Nepalese Information Minister Minendra Rijal told CNN on Tuesday. “We cannot say by how much exactly.”

The news agency Reuters cited Prime Minister Sushil Koirala as saying that the toll could reach 10,000 and that the country was “on a war footing” in its rescue and relief work.

Even as international aid pours into the country, overwhelmed hospitals are lacking vital medical supplies, people remain buried in the wreckage of buildings and rescuers are struggling to reach hard-hit rural areas near the quake’s epicenter.

“The biggest problem is reaching these villages,” Matt Darvas, an emergency communications officer for the humanitarian group, told CNN from Gorkha district, northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.

Villagers trapped, crushed in their homes

Darvas said he had been told of frightening levels of damage in villages in the surrounding region.

They included one where 35 out of 45 homes were destroyed and another where 70% of the houses had collapsed, trapping and crushing the people inside, most of them children and the elderly.

Even though aid groups and Nepalese officials are aware of critical situations in areas spread across Nepal’s mountainous terrain, they face daunting challenges getting help to them.

“Some of those villages — several years ago, before there was vehicle transport — used to take seven days to reach. Roads are shut now to some of those villages, so we can only imagine how long it will take to get there,” Darvas said Monday.

He said injured people who had been airlifted from some remote areas were often suffering from crush injuries, lacerations and dislocations.

U.N.: 1.4 million in need of food aid

The United Nations estimated that the disaster had affected 8 million people across the Nepal. More than 1.4 million people are in need of food assistance, the world body said in a situation report Monday.

UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, said Sunday that nearly 1 million Nepalese children urgently need assistance.

Numerous aid groups and at least 16 nations rushed aid and workers to Nepal, with more on the way.

High-altitude rescue efforts have also been undertaken on the difficult terrain of Mount Everest, where the earthquake released deadly avalanches on Mount Everest.

Four U.S. citizens are among those who died on Everest, according to officials and relatives.

Damage to climbing infrastructure on the mountain, not to mention the overall situation in Nepal, means the climbing season is over for the year, climber Jim Davidson told CNN from the Everest base camp, where he was evacuated after spending two days on the mountain.

China has canceled all climbs on its side of the mountain, the official news agency Xinhua reported Monday.

CNN’s Ivan Watson and Tim Hume reported from Kathmandu; CNN’s Jethro Mullen wrote and reported from Hong Kong. CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph, Pamela Boykoff, Manesh Shrestha, Sumnima Udas, Kristie LuStout, Anjali Tsui, Kunal Sehgal and Ingrid Formanek also contributed to this report.