A major earthquake and dozens of powerful aftershocks struck Nepal on Saturday, destroying parts of the capital, Kathmandu, killing more than 1,900 people and injuring at least 4,700, according to the country’s Home Ministry. The United States and other nations were sending disaster response teams to the region to help deal with the tragedy.
The 7.8-magnitude quake, the most powerful to hit the area in 81 years, struck northwest of Kathmandu, destroying large parts of the city’s historic center. To the east, avalanches shook Mount Everest — the highest point on Earth — killing at least 17 climbers, injuring many others and burying entire base camps. A 6.6-magnitude aftershock hit more than an hour after the initial quake.
The trail of devastation spread to neighboring areas that also felt tremors. By early Sunday, deaths and extensive property damage in the Tibet Autonomous Region, hundreds of kilometers north of Kathmandu have been reported .
At least 34 people were killed in India, mostly in the eastern state of Bihar. Five deaths were reported in Tibet, and casualty reports also came in from Bangladesh, Bhutan and other Nepal-China border areas.
The United States made an initial pledge of $1 million in disaster relief. Additionally, the Obama administration activated an elite Virginia-based earthquake rescue team and told another renowned team of specialists in Los Angeles to prepare for deployment.
A spokesman for the Fairfax, Virginia-based international search-and-rescue operation told VOA Saturday that its 80 member unit — including physicians, canine teams and structural specialists — was ready to deploy and awaiting final orders to do so.
India also was assisting in the rescue effort. Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said three tons of supplies and 40 members of India’s National Disaster Response Force were flying to Nepal.
But it was unclear where or how those aircraft might land, because the country’s only international airport was shut down and all communications networks had been lost.
The massive scale of the tragedy unfolded in the hours after the earthquake flattened homes, damaged buildings, and split open walls and roads in the bustling Kathmandu Valley — home to 2-1/2 million people and Nepal’s main cities. Historic structures made of wood and unmortared brick were leveled.
But the devastation could be much wider because scores of tiny villages perched on Himalayan slopes have not yet been accessed, warned Krishna Prasad Dhakal, deputy chief at the Nepal Embassy in New Delhi.
“You know that the effect of this earthquake has been in the remote areas also … so it will take time to get the data. Definitely, it will take few more days to rescue,” said Dhakal.
The epicenter of the killer quake, which struck shortly before noon, was 80 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu and about 15 kilometers below the surface.
The death toll climbed rapidly through the day as the army and police launched a rescue effort.
There were reports of people trapped in buildings and panicking in the streets. Eyewitnesses said that newer buildings in Kathmandu were still standing, but that most of the older buildings had apparently collapsed in the center of the city.
Only a stump and a pile of rubble was left of Kathmandu’s 60-meter-tall, 19th-century Dharara tower, a UNESCO world heritage site. At least 180 people were reported killed in the structure’s collapse. Several other heritage buildings, including ancient temples, were also damaged or destroyed.