KATHMANDU - Nepalese tourist guide Naba Raj Amgai had just returned home from a mountain-biking trip when his home in the capital Kathmandu began to shake, sending a fridge and television smashing to the ground.

He and his wife bolted for the stairs. Outside, his neighbours were pouring onto the street, shouting and crying. ‘It was horrible,’ said Amgai, who was standing out on the street several hours later. ‘I still haven’t gone back inside.’

The magnitude 7.9 earthquake, Nepal’s biggest for 81 years, struck west of Kathmandu just before noon on Saturday. Officials said it had killed at least 1,130 people in the Himalayan nation and dozens in neighbouring countries. The quake was also felt across Bangladesh, northern India and Chinese Tibet, collapsing ancient buildings, modern complexes and modest village homes.

Eyewitnesses described scenes of panic and confusion in the Nepali capital when the ground started shaking beneath their feet, sending people running out of their homes and onto streets choked with thick dust. ‘The ground underneath me was shaking. I thought I was going to sink into it,’ said Hari Adhikari, a 60-year-old vegetable seller.

In Patan, a densely packed neighbourhood, a Reuters reporter heard neighbours screaming as the first tremor hit. ‘I was eating near the city centre in Kathmandu when suddenly the tables started trembling and paintings on the wall fell on the ground,’ Devyani Pant, an Indian tourist in Kathmandu, told Reuters. ‘I screamed and rushed outside.’

Across the region, people were injured in the scramble to get out of shaking buildings and onto safer ground. In the Indian state of West Bengal, dozens of children were caught up in stampedes to leave two different school buildings, according to an official in Malda district, with several sustaining minor injuries.

In Bangladesh, buildings across the old part of the capital Dhaka cracked from the impact, and several workers in a garment factory were hurt as they rushed to escape. As the aftershocks continued to rock Kathmandu, people remained in the streets. Phone lines were jammed.

‘We have been flooded with phone calls from all around the world,’ Mohan Krishna Sapkota, joint secretary in the Nepal tourism ministry, told Reuters. ‘We are facing a tremendous crisis here and it is hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage could be.’ The ministry estimated that 300,000 foreign tourists and trekkers were in Nepal when the earthquake struck. There were reports that at least 18 people had been killed in an avalanche unleashed by the earthquake that swept through the climbers’ base camp on the world’s highest mountain, Everest. In hospitals in the capital, nurses and doctors moved patients outside, setting up makeshift treatment areas. One patient told a Reuters reporter he had broken his leg when he jumped from the third floor of a building.

By nightfall, as the death toll climbed, volunteers had started to help authorities gather bodies and pile them into ambulances. Residents, instructed not to return to their homes, had begun to set up camps for the night. At the Smarak school in Patan, some 350 people gathered on a playing field, setting up tents, with volunteers handing out tea and water. Yira Lama, who had been living in a rented room in Kathmandu but comes from a village not far from the epicentre, said he planned to stay the night there. ‘I spoke to my family in the village and they said our house has been completely destroyed,’ he said.