A powerful earthquake struck Nepal on Saturday, killing more than 1,300 people across a swath of four countries as violent trembles collapsed houses, levelled centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches on Mount Everest.
At least 1,341 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. The death toll is almost certain to rise, said deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam.
It was a few minutes before noon when the quake, 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 toward the Himalayas and Tibet, south to the Indo-Gangetic plains, east toward the Brahmaputra delta of Bangladesh and west toward the historical 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, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets and walls. And clouds of dust began to swirl all around.
“Our village has been almost wiped out. Most of the houses are either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking,” said Vim Tamang, a resident of Manglung village near the epicentre. He said half of the village folks are either missing or dead. “All the villagers have gathered in the open area. We don’t know what to do. We are feeling helpless,” he said when contacted by telephone.
Meteorologists forecast rain and thunderstorms were also predicted for Saturday night and Sunday.
Within hours of the quake, 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, ran from the house when the first quake 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, gingerly holding his right arm with his left hand. As he spoke dozens of more people showed up with injuries, mostly from falling bricks.
It was the worst tremor to hit the poor South Asian nation in over 80 years.
Following the quake, Kathmandu’s international airport was shut down.
Canada pledges support
Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said Canada is reaching out to provide help to the nation of 28 million and the 388 Canadians known to be there.
“Canada will do everything it can to assist,” Nicholson said Saturday on CBC News Network.
‘Everything’s in motion right now.’- Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson
“The lines are open and we’re doing everything possible to make contact with Canadians in the area, and do whatever we can to assist in this terrible tragedy.”
Nicholson said it is not known if any Canadians have been killed or injured, noting that communication with the area is still difficult.
“Everything’s in motion right now.”
Canada is co-ordinating its efforts with the UN, the Red Cross and diplomats in the area, he said.
Canadians checking on their relatives and friends in Nepal and the surrounding affected areas should contact the department’s 24-hour Emergency Watch and Response Centre at 613-996-8885 or 1-800-387-3124, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Registration of Canadians Abroad Service has 388 Canadians listed as being in Nepal. However, this number provides only an estimate as registration is voluntary.
The buildings in the Kathmandu Valley, home to 2.5 million people, are very vulnerable to major earthquakes and many have fallen over, Harriette Stone, an earthquake engineer from England’s University College London, told CBC News.
“There are a lot of mason buildings that are susceptible to damage,” she said. “It’s one of those days we all dread.”
While the extent of the damage and the scale of the disaster are yet to be ascertained, the quake will likely put a huge strain on the resources of this poor country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world, and its rich Hindu culture. The economy of Nepal is heavily reliant on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.
Mount Everest avalanche
A mountaineering guide, Ang Tshering, said an avalanche swept the face of Mount Everest after the earthquake, and government officials said at least 10 climbers were killed and 30 injured. Their nationalities were not immediately known.
Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a Dane who is climbing the Everest with a Belgian climber Jelle Veyt, said on his Facebook page that they were at Khumbu Icefall , a rugged area of collapsed ice and snow close to base camp at altitude 5,000 metres when the earthquake hit.
He wrote on his Facebook that they have started to receive the injured, including one person with the most severe injuries who sustained many fractures.
“He was blown away by the avalanche and broke both legs. For the camps closer to where the avalanche hit, our Sherpas believe that a lot of people may have been buried in their tents,” he wrote in English. “There is now a steady flow of people fleeing base camp in hope of more security further down the mountain.”
Shallow quake carried destructive power
The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 7.8. It said the quake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time at Lamjung, about 80 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu. Its depth was only 11 kilometres, the largest shallow quake since the 8.2 temblor off the coast of Chile on April 1, 2014.
The strong magnitude-7.8 earthquake shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday. A magnitude-6.6 aftershock hit about an hour later, and smaller aftershocks continued to ripple through the region for hours. (Tashi Sherpa/Associated Press)
The shallower the quake the more destructive power it carries, and witnesses said the trembling and swaying of the earth went on for several minutes.
A magnitude 7 quake is capable of widespread and heavy damage while an 8 magnitude quake can cause tremendous damage. This means Saturday’s quake — with the same magnitude as the one that hit San Francisco in 1906 — was about 16 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in 2010.
“The shallowness of the source made the ground-shaking at the surface worse than it would have been for a deeper earthquake,” said David A. Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University in Milton Keynes, north of London.
A major factor in the damage was that the buildings were not built to be quake-proof. An earthquake this size in Tokyo or Los Angeles, which have building codes for quake resistance, would not be nearly as devastating.
The quake toppled Dharahara, also known as Bhimsen Tower. The nine-storey-tall landmark was built in Kathmandu around the year 1832 as a military watch tower. (Twitter/@StefSimanowitz)
The power of the tremors brought down several buildings in the center of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers.
Among them was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, one of Kathmandu’s landmarks built by Nepal’s royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.
Hundreds of people buy tickets on weekends to go up to the viewing platform on the eighth story, but it was not clear how many were up there when the tower collapsed. Video footage showed people digging through the rubble of the tower, looking for survivors.
Buildings poorly constructed
The Kathmandu Valley is densely populated with nearly 2.5 million people, and the quality of buildings is often poor.
In Kathmandu, dozens of people gathered in the parking lot of Norvic International Hospital, where thin mattresses were spread on the ground for patients rushed outside, some wearing hospital pajamas. A woman with a bandage on her head sat in a set of chairs pulled from the hospital waiting room.
Doctors and nurses hooked up some patients to intravenous drips in the parking lot, or were giving people oxygen.
A Swedish woman, Jenny Adhikari, who lives in Nepal, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that she was riding a bus in the town of Melamchi when the earth began to move.
“A huge stone crashed only about 20 metres from the bus,” she was quoted as saying. “All the houses around me have tumbled down. I think there are lot of people who have died,” she told the newspaper by telephone. Melamchi is about 45 kilometres northeast of Kathmandu.
Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.
The sustained quake also was felt in India’s capital of New Delhi and several other Indian cities.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a meeting of top government officials to review the damage and disaster preparedness in parts of India that felt strong tremors. The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim, which share a border with Nepal, have reported building damage. There have also been reports of damage in the northeastern state of Assam.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered “all possible help” that Nepal may need.