As aftershocks continue to terrify survivors, thousands of whom are living in tent cities that have sprung up in open spaces in the Nepal capital of Kathmandu, the death toll continues to climb—now more than 4,000 are believed to have been killed, more than 9,000 have been injured and thousands are still missing in what has been the most devastating earthquake in Nepal since an earthquake in 1934 claimed more than 8,500 lives.
Among the dead are four Americans—killed in an avalanche on Mt. Everest which followed the trembler—and many other U.S. citizens are still missing though many may be cut off from lines of communication and unable to reach loved ones. The U.N. reports that 8 million people in 39 districts of Nepal have been affected—2 million of them in the 11 severely affected districts. Over 1.4 million people are in need of food assistance.
While the suffering in Kathmandu is clear, few outlying villages have been reached and widespread destruction, especially in hillside settlements, is feared. The toll of the dead and wounded is expected to head higher once conditions in the countryside are reported. In the capital, where hundreds of the brick and mortar, multi-story homes of the city's poor collapsed completely, hope for pulling more survivors from the rubble is fading by the hour.
Many survivors in this predominately Hindu nation have begun sheltering on the grounds of Kathmandu's Assumption Church. Scores are attempting to leave the city as fears of food and fresh water shortages mount.
Caritas agencies and Catholic Relief Services are gearing up for what will be a major humanitarian effort since the April 25 earthquake struck. Speaking from Katmandu, Father Pius Perumana, director of Caritas Nepal, said survivors were in dire need of food and protection from the cold. He told Vatican Radio help is arriving, slowly.
“Aid is coming, but then the problem is that we only have one international airport, and it is a very small one,” he said. “Katmandu may be covered in a day or two fully, but in outlying areas we may need helicopters in which to [carry] things.” Scenes at the airport were chaotic, with many struggling to leave the stricken nation as others tried to arrive to help out or to deliver humanitarian aid. According to Reuters, many airport employees were not reporting to work as survivors among its ground crews and staff dealt with their own injuries or in resettling their families.
Father Perumana said the immediate needs of the population are “more shelters, food items, sanitary items, also at the same time search-and-rescue operations are still on because…there are more people trapped in collapsed buildings.”
"The death toll continues to rise steadily," he said. "...considering the affected districts, we expect the number to reach 6,000 people. Many bodies are still under the rubble and the army and civil protection teams are fully involved in the rescue operations."
Father Perumana told Caritas Internationalis, "Temperatures are dropping at night and there is also rain. Children are sleeping outside at night. It is really traumatic for them.”
On the ground in Nepal and visiting a rural community near the capital, Caritas Australia Online Editor Lillian Chan experienced the powerful quake, 7.8 on the Richter scale. She returned to the capital from the village she had been visiting to images of suffering and destruction.
She described the terrible scene in a blog post at Caritas Internationalis:
The drive back to Kathmandu was a sobering one. As we passed yet another community coming to terms with the shock, I noticed a group of people standing on top of a large pile of rubble in the distance. It looked as if their home had completely collapsed and my colleagues said that the crowd were probably trying to rescue people still trapped in inside.
The scene in Kathmandu was heartbreaking. Buildings I had only seen for first time just days earlier were reduced to heaps of debris. People were evacuating their homes, with nowhere to take shelter. And we saw patients evacuated from the hospital, only to be treated on the ground, out in the streets.
Since the initial earthquake, we have continued to experience tremors, including a massive shock of magnitude 6.8 at around midday on Sunday. I have never experienced an earthquake before. The initial tremor is terrifying. But the continued threat of destructive aftershocks leaves people vulnerable long after the first shock...Since Saturday, I have had the opportunity to speak to people who have been evacuated or lost their homes completely. Their experience is humbling. They are making do with what they have and courageously doing everything they can to look after themselves and their families. But rain and the cold nights are making the situation even more difficult, and food, water and basic necessities are scarce.
According to a CRS statement, its initial focus will be the thousands in need of shelter. Working with Caritas Nepal, CRS’ initial goal is to help 10,000 families with emergency shelter, blankets, water treatment kits and hygiene kits. Given the scale of the disaster, the number receiving help is expected to rise.
Because the region is known for earthquakes, CRS had pre-positioned stocks of emergency aid in nearby Bihar, India. These supplies—temporary shelter kits (tarpaulins, mats, rope), water purification kits and hygiene kits for 2,000 families—are being transported to Nepal for immediate distribution. Teams are also purchasing and transporting other critical relief items from India to transport into Nepal since most markets in Kathmandu remain closed.
Salesian missionaries, who maintain education programs in Kathmandu, have also been active, reaching out to assist more than 200 families who have lost their houses in Lubhu and more than 250 families who have lost their houses as well as livestock in Thecho.
With a per capita income of just $2,400 Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with about one-quarter of its population living below the poverty line. Nepal is heavily dependent on remittances, which amount to as much as 22-25 percent of GDP. The United States has pledged $10 million in disaster aid and other relief and rescue teams are arriving from other nations, especially neighboring India and China.