KATHMANDU - A massive earthquake killed more than 1,341 people Saturday as it tore through large parts of Nepal, toppling office blocks and towers in Kathmandu and triggering a deadly avalanche at Everest base camp.

Officials said at least 1,341 people are known to have died in Nepal, making it the quake-prone Himalayan nation’s worst disaster in more than 80 years.

But the final toll from the 7.8 magnitude quake could be much higher, and dozens more people were reported killed in neighbouring India and China.

“The death toll has reached 1,341” Nepal police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told reporters, adding that rescue efforts were still underway.

Emergency workers fanned out across the Himalayan nation to rescue those trapped under collapsed homes, buildings and other debris.

Officials said 10 people were killed when an avalanche buried parts of Mount Everest’s base camp in Nepal where hundreds of mountaineers have gathered at the start of the annual climbing season.

Kathmandu was severely damaged, and the historic nine-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among buildings brought down.

At least a dozen bodies were taken away from the ruins of the 19th-century tower, according to an AFP photographer who saw similar scenes of multiple casualties throughout the city.

“It was difficult to breath, but I slowly moved the debris. Someone then pulled me out. I don’t know where my friends are,” Dharmu Subedi, 36, who was standing outside the tower when it collapsed, said from a hospital bed.

At least 42 people were known to have died in India, including 30 in the eastern state of Bihar, while buildings in the capital New Delhi had to be evacuated. Tremors were also felt as far as in Pakistan.

The United States Geological Survey said the shallow quake struck 77 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu at 0611 GMT, with walls crumbling and families racing outside their homes.

The quake tore through the middle of highways in the capital and also caused damage to the country’s only international airport which was briefly closed.

Kari Cuelenaere, an official at the Dutch embassy, said the impact had swept the water out of a swimming pool at a Kathmandu hotel where Dutch national day was being celebrated.

“It was horrible, all of a sudden all the water came up out of the pool and drenched everyone, the children started screaming,” Cuelenaere told AFP. “Some parts of the city fell down, there was dust rising... There were many (rescue) helicopters.”

Aftershock tremors could be felt more than two hours after the initial quake.

USGS initially measured the quake at 7.5 magnitude and later adjusted it to 7.8, with a depth of 15 kilometres.

A spokesman for Nepal’s home ministry said the government had released around $500 million as emergency funds for rescue operations.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said that 13 people, including an 83-year-old woman, were killed in the Tibet region.

The area has a history of earthquakes, with a 6.8 magnitude quake that hit eastern Nepal in August 1988 killing 721 people. A magnitude 8.1 quake killed 10,700 people in Nepal and eastern India in 1934.

More details on Page 11