Thousands spend night outdoors as death toll rises in Nepal

By , on May 13, 2015


CHAUTARA, Nepal — Thousands of fear-stricken people spent the night outdoors after a new earthquake killed dozens of people and spread more misery in Nepal, which is still reeling from a devastating quake that killed more than 8,000 people nearly three weeks ago.

A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter carrying six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers was reported missing while delivering disaster aid in northeastern Nepal, U.S. officials said, although there have been no indications the aircraft crashed.

Home ministry official Laxmi Dhakal said Wednesday that army helicopters were scouring the Sunkhani area, nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Kathmandu, for the missing helicopter.

Tuesday’s magnitude-7.3 quake, centered between Kathmandu and Mount Everest, struck hardest in the foothills of the Himalayas and triggered landslides that blocked roads to remote villages in several districts. Most of the 65 people confirmed dead by Wednesday morning were in Dolakha district, northeast of Kathmandu, the district’s chief administrator Prem Lal Lamichane said.

“People are terrorized. Everyone is scared here. They spent the night out in the open,” Lamichane said, adding the administration was running out of relief material.

He asked the government to send more helicopters and supplies, and said there were many injured people stranded in villages.

The Tuesday quake battered Chautara, a foothills town that became a hub for rescuers and humanitarian aid after the first earthquake. Officials there said at least three people had died Tuesday and more than 60 were injured.

Early Wednesday morning, officials with bullhorns walked through badly hit Chautara neighborhoods, calling out for people to leave buildings in case they collapsed.

Most people, though, had fled into the open the day before, and had spent the night in tents or under plastic tarps.

Tuesday’s quake also left nearly 2,000 injured, according to the Home Ministry’s latest count. But that toll was expected to rise as reports trickled in of people in isolated Himalayan towns and villages being buried under rubble, according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Tremors radiated across parts of Asia. In neighboring India, at least 16 people were confirmed dead after rooftops or walls collapsed onto them, according to India’s Home Ministry. Chinese media reported one death in Tibet.

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake that hit April 25 killed more than 8,150 people and flattened entire villages, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless in the country’s worst-recorded quake since 1934. The U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday’s earthquake was the largest aftershock of that quake.

But while Tuesday’s quake was terrifying and deadly, it was significantly less powerful than April’s and occurred deeper in the Earth. Calculations done by University of Michigan earthquake geophysicist Eric Hetland indicated that about 65,000 people were exposed to “violent” shaking Tuesday – compared to 1.5 million on April 25.

The first quake also drove many people from damaged homes, and officials in Kathmandu and other towns reported the collapse Tuesday of empty buildings.

Impoverished Nepal appealed for billions of dollars in foreign aid after the first quake, as well as medical experts to treat the wounded and helicopters to ferry food and temporary shelters to hundreds of thousands left homeless amid unseasonal rains.

In Washington, Navy Capt. Chris Sims said the missing Huey helicopter was conducting disaster relief operations near the Nepal town of Charikot.

A nearby Indian helicopter heard radio chatter about a possible fuel problem, said U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren. The Huey, carrying tarps and rice, had dropped off supplies and was headed to a second site when contact was lost, he said, adding that there has been no smoke or other signs of a crash.

Due to the rugged terrain, the helicopter could have landed in an area where the crew was unable to get a beacon or radio signal out, Warren said.

In the capital, frightened residents who had returned to their homes only a few days ago had to again set up tents Tuesday night to sleep in empty fields, parking lots and on sidewalks.

“Everyone was saying the earthquakes are over. … Now I don’t want to believe anyone,” said 40-year-old produce vendor Ram Hari Sah.

The earth also shook strongly in neighboring Tibet, unleashing a landslide that killed one person and injured three, according to China Central Television. Two houses collapsed, the state broadcaster said, quoting disaster officials of the regional Tibetan government.

Associated Press writers Binaj Gurubacharya in Kathmandu and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.