AFP/Reuters
KATHMANDU - Desperate survivors of an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people clashed with riot police in Nepal’s capital on Wednesday, as the United Nations appealed for $415 million for the devastated Himalayan nation.
Supplies of food and water are running thin and aftershocks have strained nerves in ruined Kathmandu, home to some 2.5 million before it was shattered by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake . Desperate to leave, thousands of people gathered outside the main bus station after the government promised to lay on special services to far-flung rural areas.
But when the buses failed to materialise, anger surged and scuffles broke out between the crowds and riot police who were sent to try to contain the situation near parliament. Some protesters forced a truck carrying drinking water off the road and climbed on top of it, throwing the bottles to the crowd.
“We’ve been left starving in the cold and the best this government can give us is this queue. Why are they so slow?” demanded Rajana as she lined up along with thousands of others for a bus to her home village. “I keep hearing on the news that all governments and aid agencies are here, but where are they? Our government is totally absent. Forget shelter, they couldn’t even give us water,” said Rajana, who goes by one name.
Columns of riot police stood behind rolls of barbed wire as rioters armed with sticks surged into the street, attacking buses and other vehicles. At one point a young woman was pulled from her scooter and assaulted by an angry protester. Onlookers screamed at him to stop before riot police pulled him away.
Israel advised its nationals to leave Nepal for “health and security reasons”. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country settled down for a fifth night under tents. Their homes were either wrecked or were feared to be on the verge of collapse. But with the number and scale of the aftershocks subsiding, some residents returned to salvage possessions from the ruins of their homes, grabbing everything from fridges to family chickens.
“There have been some weaknesses in managing the relief operation,” Communications Minister Minendra Rijal told Nepal’s Kantipur Television, acknowledging the government had been overwhelmed by the devastation from the deadliest quake in Nepal since 1934. “The disaster has been so huge and unprecedented that we have not been in a position to meet the expectations of the needy people,” he added.
There was also desperation in devastated rural areas. People have been pleading to be airlifted out when the occasional helicopter has reached their villages with relief supplies. In Dolakha angry residents smashed windows of a local administrative building, said Chief District Officer Prem Lal Lamichhane.
“Over 200,000 people are homeless. We’ve been told that materials are on their way, but we haven’t received them yet,” the official pleaded. A total of 5,057 people are known to have died in Nepal and around 100 more in neighbouring India and China. Around 8,000 were injured while the United Nations estimates that eight million people have been affected. On Wednesday, the world body appealed for $415 million for Nepal , saying that around 70,000 houses had been destroyed and another 530,000 damaged. One estimate has put the cost of reconstruction at $5 billion. “Although I am heartened and encouraged by the progress of the response to date, efforts need to be maintained and stepped up to ensure vital assistance reaches all the affected, especially those in the remote areas,” said UN resident coordinator for Nepal , Jamie McGoldrick.
Earlier McGoldrick said that the Nepalese government had told organisers of the relief effort there was no need for further outside help, with teams from many countries on the ground. Among the dead were 18 climbers who were at Mount Everest base camp when an avalanche from the quake flattened everything in its path. The victims included two Americans, an Australian and a Chinese national.
Police Wednesday released a list of 33 foreigners still missing since the earthquake, including 15 Israelis, five Canadians, three Bangladeshis and three French nationals. Rescuers underlined the daunting scale of the task. An Indian Air Force plane trying to reach one of the worst-hit areas near Kathmandu was forced to drop packets of noodles and sacks of rice from the air after being unable to land, with the ground below looking like the set of a war movie.
“We tried for 20 minutes but there was no possible way we could land. There was debris and rubble everywhere,” Wing Commander Abhijit S. Bali told AFP at Larpak village 80 kilometres (50 miles) outside the capital. An Indian military helicopter had better luck in the Gorkha Valley Wednesday, airlifting around a dozen mainly Slovakian trekkers to safety.
And French rescuers plucked one man from the rubble of his Kathmandu hotel late Tuesday after he was trapped under masonry for around 82 hours. Barely conscious and covered in dust, Rishi Khanal was taken to hospital after being fitted with a neck brace and a drip attached to his right arm. “He said he was so thirsty that he even drank his own urine,” his brother-in-law Purna Ram Bhattarai told AFP. Two foreign nationals were found dead after an avalanche hit a village in a popular trekking destination north of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, the interior ministry said on Wednesday, but aid workers were able to locate hundreds of others reported missing.
Up to 250 trekkers were feared missing after an avalanche on Tuesday hit a village in Langtang, a national park, in the aftermath of Saturday’s massive earthquake. They were located and airlifted to safety, but two bodies were found in the area. The nationality of the dead tourists was not known, the home ministry said, adding that rescue work there had been completed. The trekkers, many of them from Israel, fought for food and for places on helicopters after being denied shelter by locals. They were unable to make it back to safety because roads and paths had been blocked, while some guest houses damaged in Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake shut their doors to visitors. “We were sitting in our tent when suddenly a boulder of ice fell on it,” Israeli trekker Lily Milkovich told Reuters.
“After a few minutes we found that some of our friends had been buried under the snow. Once we felt we were safe to help them, we started pulling them out,” she said by telephone after being flown out to a pick-up point for bringing evacuees by bus back to Kathmandu. Milkovich said there had been fights to get on the choppers, but tensions eased when it became clear that there would be enough flights to bring everyone to safety.
One Israeli rescuer described the situation in Langtang as “tense”, and said there had been fights over scarce food between stranded trekkers and Nepali villagers. “Villagers think the tourists are taking too much of the food,” said Amit Rubin, who is based at Kathmandu airport with a team from Magnus International Search & Rescue. District governor Uddhav Bhattarai, directing operations from the pick-up point, said 100 people were airlifted out on Wednesday morning with another 125 to come.
The Israeli helicopters were rescuing their own nationals first, before retrieving people from other countries, he told Reuters. Around 150 Israeli tourists had been in Langtang, which is less well known than the Annapurna Circuit, where 43 people died in blizzards last autumn in the country’s worst trekking disaster. Nepali and Israeli helicopters shuttled out trekkers, and an Israeli search team was combing through villages to find those unaccounted for. Many tourists don’t register with embassies when they visit Nepal , making it hard to know how many may be missing. Yehonathan Lebel, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Kathmandu, said bringing the trekkers back to safety was a top priority. “It is very cold up there, people don’t have food and they are getting really desperate,” he said.