KATHMANDU, Nepal — A powerful earthquake struck Nepal Saturday, killing at least 71 people, as the violently shaking earth collapsed houses, leveling centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches in the Himalayas. It was the worst temblor to hit the poor South Asian nation in over 80 years.
The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.9 struck before noon and was most severely felt in the capital as well as the densely populated Kathmandu Valley. Aftershocks continued to ripple through the region for hours.
Dozens of people with injuries were being brought to the main hospital in central Kathmandu. The Home Ministry said in a statement that 71 people were killed. It did not give details.
The earthquake also shook several cities across northern India, and was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, Lhasa in Tibet, 550 kilometers (340 miles) east of Kathmandu, and in Bangladesh.
China’s state broadcaster that said one Chinese tourist was killed at the Nepal-China border. Television reports from Bangladesh said 2 people were killed and about 100 injured
Pushpa Das, a laborer, 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.
The quake’s epicenter was 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, and it had a depth of only 11 kilometers (7 miles), which is considered shallow in geological terms. The shallower the quake the more destructive power it carries.
As the ground began to shake, several buildings collapsed in the center of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers, said resident Prachanda Sual.
Among them was the Dharahara Tower, one of Kathmandu’s landmarks built by Nepal’s royal rulers in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.
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. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, is heavily dependent on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.
The U.S. Geological Survey revised the magnitude from 7.5 to 7.9 and said the quake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time (0611 GMT) at Lamjung. It was the largest shallow quake since the 8.2 temblor off the coast of Chile on April 1, 2014.
An earthquake’s power increases by 10 times with each increase in the number of its scale. A magnitude 7 quake is capable of widespread and heavy damage while an 8 magnitude quake can cause tremendous damage.
Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.
Naqvi reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Jan M. Olsen in Stockholm contributed to this report.