A POWERFUL earthquake struck Nepal today, killing at least 1,180 people across a swath of four countries as the violently shaking earth collapsed houses, levelled centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches on Mount Everest.
It was the worst tremor to hit the poor South Asian nation in more than 80 years. At least 1,130 people were confirmed dead across Nepal, according to the police. Another 34 were killed in India, 12 in Tibet and two in Bangladesh. Two Chinese citizens died in the Nepal-China border. Given the scale of the destruction, the death toll is almost certain to rise, said one home ministry official, Laxmi Dhakal.
It was a few minutes before noon when the earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 7.8, began to rumble across the densely populated Kathmandu Valley, rippling through the capital, Kathmandu and spreading in all directions – north towards the Himalayas and Tibet, south to the Indo-Gangetic plains, east toward the Brahmaputra delta of Bangladesh and west the city of Lahore, in Pakistan.
A magnitude 6.6 aftershock hit about an hour later, and smaller aftershocks continued to jolt the region for hours. Residents ran out of homes and buildings in panic. Walls tumbled, large cracks opened up on streets and walls. Towers collapsed and clouds of dust began to swirl all around.
Within hours, hospitals began to fill up with dozens of injured people. Many came to the main hospital in central Kathmandu. Among them was Pushpa Das, a labourer, who ran from his house when the first tremor struck but could not escape a collapsing wall that injured his arm.
“It was very scary. The earth was moving… I am waiting for treatment but the [hospital] staff is overwhelmed,” he said.
Following the earthquake, Kathmandu’s international airport was shut down.
While the extent of the damage and the scale of the disaster are yet to be ascertained, the earthquake will put a huge strain on the resources of this poor country best-known for Mount Everest, and its rich Hindu culture. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, is heavily dependent on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.
A senior mountaineering guide, Ang Tshering, said an avalanche swept the face of Mount Everest after the earthquake, and government officials said that at least 30 people were injured.
Tshering, of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said the avalanche occurred between the Khumbu Icefall, a rugged area of collapsed ice and snow, and the base camp where most climbing expeditions have their main camps.