A powerful, 7.9-magnitude earthquake shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, collapsing houses, leveling centuries-old temples and cutting open roads in the worst temblor in the Himalayan nation in over 80 years.
Dozens of people with injuries were being brought to the main hospital in central Kathmandu. There was no immediate estimate on fatalities, except for a report by China’s state broadcaster that said one Chinese tourist was killed at the Nepal-China border.
The earthquake also shook several cities across northern India, and was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan and Lhasa in Tibet, 550 kilometers (340 miles) east of Kathmandu. The epicenter was 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu.
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.
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.
Old Kathmandu city is a warren of tightly packed, narrow lanes with poorly constructed homes piled on top of each other.
Sual said he saw people running through the streets in panic. Ambulance sirens blared and government helicopters hovered overhead.
National radio warned people to stay outdoors and maintain calm because more aftershocks were feared. A 6.6-magnitude aftershock hit about an hour after the initial quake. But smaller aftershocks continued to arrive every few minutes and residents reported of the ground feeling unstable.
Dozens of people were gathered in the parking lot of Kathmandu’s Norvic International Hospital, where thin mattresses had been spread on the ground for patients rushed outside, some patients wearing hospital pajamas, while doctors and nurses were treating people. A woman with a bandage on her head sat in a set of chairs pulled from the hospital waiting room.
Doctors and nurses had hooked up some patients to IV drops in the parking lot, or were giving people oxygen.
Nepal’s Information Minister Minendra Rijal told India’s NDTV station that there are reports of damage in and around Kathmandu but no immediate word on casualties. He said rescue teams were on the scene.
The Kathmandu Valley is densely populated with nearly 2.5 million people, and the quality of buildings is often poor.
An Associated Press reporter in Kathmandu said a wall in his compound collapsed and there was damage to nearby buildings.
A Swedish woman, Jenny Adhikari, who lives in Nepal, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that she was riding a bus in the town of Melamchi when the earth began to move.
“A huge stone crashed only about 20 meters (yards) from the bus,” she was quoted as saying. “All the houses around me have tumbled down. I think there are lot of people who have died,” she told the newspaper by telephone. Melamchi is about 45 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Kathmandu.
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 a shallow depth of 11 kilometers (7 miles). An earthquake’s magnitude increases by 10 times with each increase in the number. A magnitude 7 quake is capable of widespread and heavy damage while an 8 magnitude quake can cause tremendous damage.
Mohammad Shahab, a resident from Lahore, Pakistan, said he was sitting in his office when the earthquake rocked the city near the border with India.
The sustained quake also was felt in India’s capital of New Delhi. AP reporters in Indian cities of Lucknow in the north and Patna in the east also reported strong tremors.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a meeting of top government officials to review the damage and disaster preparedness in parts of India that felt strong tremors. The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim, which share a border with Nepal, have reported building damage. There have also been reports of damage in the northeastern state of Assam.
Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.