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Nepal races to rescue quake victims with disease risk rising

MUMBAI — The search for survivors of Nepal’s deadly earthquake entered its third day as countries rushed aid to one of Asia’s poorest economies and international relief agencies warned of the rising risk of water-borne disease.

Injured people receive treatment outside the Medicare Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. Photo: AP

Injured people receive treatment outside the Medicare Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. Photo: AP

MUMBAI — The search for survivors of Nepal’s deadly earthquake entered its third day as countries rushed aid to one of Asia’s poorest economies and international relief agencies warned of the rising risk of water-borne disease.

Dozens of aftershocks — including one that reached a magnitude of 6.7 — have hindered rescue efforts since Saturday’s (April 25) magnitude 7.8 earthquake, adding to the chaos as panicked residents avoid returning to damaged homes. Nepal police said the quake killed more than 3,617 people and injured more than 6,000, with the toll still rising.

“It seems very difficult to find survivors now,” Mr Rameshwor Dangal, joint secretary at Nepal’s Home Ministry, said in Kathmandu. “Those trapped could be in the thousands, but it’s difficult to estimate right now. Millions are homeless.”

Nepalese authorities are appealing for tents, food, blankets and medicines as rain slows power restoration and other relief efforts, including the clearing away of corpses. The main quake that struck shortly before noon on Saturday triggered avalanches on Mount Everest, killing at least 19 climbers including a Google product manager.

The International Monetary Fund, humanitarian groups and governments from China to India to Israel rushed to provide assistance to Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest countries. While the temblor also downed buildings and took lives in neighbouring India, Tibet and China, it was Nepal that suffered the brunt.

TIME RUNNING OUT

“Time is of the essence for the search and rescue operations,” United Nations (UN) under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Ms Valerie Amos said in a statement. Many people have slept in the open for two nights and require food, water and emergency shelter, while at least 940,000 children live in areas severely affected by the earthquake, the UN said.

About 3,000 patients were strewn in hallways, benches and courtyards at the 600-bed Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, with staff struggling to treat all the wounded. Medical waste spilled out of a trash can next to a women laying on a stretcher as doctors looked at X-rays outdoors. Many of the injured including children suffered from broken bones and needed amputations.

“With rain it increases the chance of epidemic, seasonal flu or bacteria,” said Dr Suresh Kayastha, 28. Many patients have open wounds that doctors are unable to treat due to a lack of manpower and supplies, he said.

Widespread rains are forecast to hit Nepal over the next 24 hours, threatening to further hinder relief efforts, the India Meteorological Department said on Sunday. It warned citizens to beware of possible landslides.

WATER-BORNE DISEASES

“People will be terrified to be indoors. It means then that people will be exposed the the elements,” Ms Orla Fagan of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on “Face the Nation” from Bangkok.

Damage to Nepal’s water and sewage systems raises the possibility of water-borne diseases, Ms Fagan said. “At this stage we’re talking about really life-saving response.”

The US Geological Survey initially estimated economic losses to Nepal from the quake at 9 per cent to 50 per cent of gross domestic product, with a best guess of 35 per cent. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said it’s too early to make an accurate assessment.

Tourism is a key economic driver for Nepal, which has a gross domestic product that is smaller than any of the 50 US states. Its 28 million people have the lowest spending power of any Asian country apart from Afghanistan, International Monetary Fund (IMF) statistics show.

EVEREST CLIMBERS

At Mount Everest, many climbers remain stranded in two camps above the base camp, said Mr Zimba Zangbu Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. The injured and survivors are being airlifted from the base camp to Kathmandu, according to Mr Ang Tshering Sherpa, the association’s current president.

Neighbouring India will rush more relief and rescue personnel to Nepal and increase supplies of medicine and food for the quake affected, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar told reporters in New Delhi yesterday. The country will also set up medical camps along its border with Nepal, he said.

The Japanese government sent a rescue team while the UK dispatched more than 60 search and rescue and medical experts. Secretary of State John Kerry said the US would provide US$1 million (S$1.33 million) in aid while USAID was readying a disaster response team alongside an urban search and rescue team.

Missing People

A website backed by the International Committee of the Red Cross listed hundreds of foreign tourists in Nepal who remained missing. Google said it had started a “person finder” tool to help track people missing in the earthquake, and would commit US$1 million to its response.

“Some duffels from expedition members were tossed for more than a football field’s length. Expedition boots, dining tent frames, and ice axes were tossed far across the glacier too,” US climber Mr Jon Kedrowski wrote on his blog Sunday about the mayhem at basecamp.

Hundreds of people attempt to reach Everest’s summit each year, typically paying a minimum of US$30,000 per person and often far more for the privilege, according to an estimate by Outside magazine. The rising numbers of climbers has drawn complaints about overcrowding, littering and heightened danger. April is a peak month for climbing.

WEAK STRUCTURES

Many Nepalese live in unreinforced brick masonry structures. The country’s shoddy building standards and lack of preparedness for a major earthquake were the subjects of an international conference in Kathmandu earlier this month.

Television images showed rescuers pulling out people who were trapped under the 19th century Dharahara Tower, a nine-story structure in Kathmandu that collapsed.

“It was so powerful and the entire house was shaking, so we got out,” said Ms Sila Gurung, 28, who lives in a three-story home with her mother in Kathmandu’s Nakhipot district, close to the popular tourist site Patan Durbar Square. “Everyone is very scared, and no one knows when it will be safe to go back home.”

The Himalayan region is one of the world’s most active seismic zones as the Indian subcontinent pushes north into the central Asia tectonic plate. The 1934 earthquake in Nepal, just west of Sikkim, killed more than 16,000 people. A 2005 quake in Kashmir killed more than 70,000 in Pakistan. BLOOMBERG

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