Over 1,500 killed and thousands injured, villages wiped out in Nepal.
7.9-magnitude, 25 aftershocks until midnight make for sleepless Saturday.
At least 1,500 people were killed and thousands more injured after an earthquake of 7.9-magnitude convulsed across Nepal minutes before noon Saturday, triggering a wave of fear in the region and leading to 54 deaths across the border in Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
The earthquake, said to be the worst to hit the region in 80 years, had its epicentre at Lamjung, around 80km northwest of Kathmandu, and was felt as far as China, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
In Kathmandu, it also brought down protected monuments such as the Dharahara tower, built in 1832, and wiped out entire villages in Bhaktalur, Rasua, Nuwakot, Dhading and Sindhupalchok districts.
The first tremor shook almost every building in the capital and was followed by by two dozen others sending panic-stricken people out on to the streets.
As the sun dipped over the capital, where one-third of the total deaths were reported, thousands prepared to spend the night in open spaces. They were joined by President Ram Baran Yadav who decided to spend the night in a tent within the premises of his office and residence.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was attending a summit in Jakarta, tried to rush back home but made it as far as Bangkok where his connecting flight to Kathmandu was cancelled because the capital’s international airport was shut down.
As fears grew of a humanitarian disaster, an overwhelmed Nepalese government – already wracked by political instability – appealed for foreign help, with India being the first to respond with aircraft, medical equipment and relief teams.
In India, the fallout was felt most in the border states even through the tremors were felt from Assam to New Delhi and south down the western coast.
According to officials, Bihar had recorded the most deaths at 38, followed by 11 in Uttar Pradesh and five in West Bengal.
The quake was so powerful that it was felt across Bangladesh, China and even Pakistan – a total of 50 people died in these countries.
An Indian army team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest, where an avalanche unleashed by the earthquake swept through the base camp, where more than 1,000 climbers had gathered at the start of the climbing season.
Around 300,000 foreign tourists were estimated to be in various parts of Nepal for the spring trekking and climbing season in the Himalayas, and officials were overwhelmed by calls from concerned friends and relatives.
Said Arjun Negi, 35, an Indian tour operator in Kathmandu: “I was at a rooftop restaurant with a friend having tea when I felt the floor shake. I ran towards the staircase, and saw people jumping out of windows. I thought I was going to die then.”
Jose Leitao, 56, a Brazilian tourist on his first visit to Nepal, said he shocked to see people jumping out of windows and buildings collapsing everywhere.
“I was sitting inside a cafe and all of a sudden the entire building started swaying. I ran towards the door, and heard people screaming and crying. When I reached the first floor of the four-storey cafe, another shockwave jolted us and I had to hold the window bars for 20 horrifying seconds. I hope this never happens to anyone.”
(With inputs from Abhimanyu Chakravorty/Kathmandu and agencies)
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