Rescuers are struggling to find survivors of the Nepal earthquake, whose death toll has reached 137
Written by Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Rescue workers in Nepal began digging by hand through the rubble of collapsed homes on Saturday, searching for survivors after the country’s worst earthquake in eight years killed 137 people and shook buildings as far away as New Delhi.
The National Seismological Center in Nepal said that the earthquake struck the Jajarkot region in the west of the Himalayan country at 11:47 pm (1802 GMT) on Friday, with a magnitude of 6.4. The German Research Center for Geosciences measured it at 5.7 and the US Geological Survey measured it at 5.6.
Officials fear the death toll could rise as first responders arrived in the mountainous area near the epicenter, about 500 kilometers west of the capital, Kathmandu, only early Saturday and began searching for survivors.
“The number of infected people may reach hundreds, and deaths may also rise,” Jajarkot district official Harish Chandra Sharma told Reuters by phone.
Officials said that although the strength of the quake was not severe, the damage and death toll were likely high because of the poor quality of construction in the area and because it struck while people were sleeping.
Rescue work is expected to be slow as emergency teams first have to clear roads blocked by landslides in many places, they said, adding that helicopters and small aircraft have been asked to be ready to join the efforts.
This earthquake is the deadliest since 2015, when about 9,000 people were killed in two earthquakes. Entire cities, centuries-old temples and other historical sites were reduced to rubble at that time, with more than a million homes destroyed, at a cost to the economy of $6 billion.
Officials said 99 people were killed in Jajarkot and 38 in the neighboring western Rukum district, both in Karnali province. The epicenter of the earthquake was in the village of Ramidanda.
Authorities said three towns and three villages were affected in Jajarkot, which has a population of 190,000 with villages scattered in remote hills.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that at least 85 people were injured in Rukum West and 55 in Jajarkot.
Call for help
“Many houses collapsed, and cracks appeared in many others. Thousands of residents spent the entire night in cold, open lands because they were too afraid to enter the cracked houses when the aftershocks occurred,” Sharma said.
“I couldn’t get in myself.”
Local television channels showed rescue workers digging through the rubble with their bare hands, searching for survivors among the rubble of collapsed homes. Video footage showed the injured being transferred to a rescue helicopter to be transported to hospitals.
The Prime Minister flew to the area early Saturday with a 16-member military medical team to supervise search, rescue and relief operations, his office said.
His office appealed to political parties, social workers and the public to donate funds to help arrange food, water, clothes and tents for survivors.
Army spokesman Krishna Bhandari said a small plane carrying medical supplies and health workers was diverted to nearby Surkhet after it failed to land at Charjahari in nearby Rukum district due to bad weather.
Footage published by local media showed dilapidated facades of multi-storey houses, with large pieces of furniture scattered. Videos on X showed people running into the street while some buildings were evacuated.
The quake was felt in New Delhi, about 600 kilometers away, and other parts of northern India, causing buildings to shake and forcing people to flee into the streets late at night.
Authorities in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, both on the border with Nepal, said there were no reports of any damage there.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was deeply saddened by the loss of life and damage in Nepal.
“India stands in solidarity with the people of Nepal and is ready to provide all possible assistance. Our thoughts are with the bereaved families and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured,” he said on X.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, India; Writing by YP Rajesh; Editing by William Mallard)