Hundreds of Nepalis, angered and frustrated by the government’s slow response, were digging through rubble themselves on Tuesday to find remains of their loved ones after a devastating earthquake three days ago killed more than 4,000 people.
International aid has finally begun arriving in the Himalayan nation of 28 million people but disbursement is slow. A Home Ministry official in the capital, Kathmandu, said the death toll from Saturday’s 7.9 magnitude quake stood at 4,010, with 7,598 injured.
Nepal’s most deadly quake in 81 years also triggered a huge avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 17 climbers and guides, including four foreigners, the worst single disaster on the world’s highest peak.
A series of aftershocks, severe damage from the quake, creaking infrastructure and a lack of funds have slowed rescue efforts in the impoverished, mountainous country sandwiched between India and China.
“Waiting for help is more torturous than doing this ourselves,” said Pradip Subba, searching for the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law in the debris of Kathmandu’s historic Dharahara tower, a 19th century minaret that collapsed on Saturday as weekend sightseers clambered up its spiral stairs.
“Our hands are the only machine right now,” said the 27-year-old, part of a group of locals pulling out blocks of concrete with cloth masks over their faces to ward off the stench of rotting bodies. “There is just no one from the government or the army to help us.”
Scores of people were killed in the collapse of the tower.
The head of neighbouring India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), one of the first foreign organisations to arrive in Nepal to help in the search and rescue effort, said finding survivors and the bodies of the dead would take time.
NDRF Director General O.P. Singh said heavy equipment could not fit through many of the narrow streets of Kathmandu.
“You have to remove all this rubble, so that will take a lot of time … I think it’s going to take weeks,” he told Indian television channel NDTV late on Monday.
Many people across Nepal slept in the open for a third night, their homes either flattened or threatened by tremors that spread more fear among a traumatised population.
In Kathmandu, as elsewhere, thousands are sleeping on pavements, roads and in parks, many under makeshift tents.
Hospitals are full to overflowing, while water, food and power are scarce, raising fears of waterborne diseases.
There were some signs of normality on Tuesday, however, with fruit vendors setting up stalls on major roads and public buses back in operation.
But with aid slow to reach many of the most vulnerable, some Nepalis were critical of the government.
“The government has not done anything for us,” said Anil Giri, who was with about 20 volunteers looking for two of his friends presumed buried under rubble. “We are clearing the debris ourselves with our bare hands.”
Officials acknowledged they were overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.
“The big challenge is relief,” said Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudel, Nepal’s top bureaucrat.
“We urge foreign countries to give us special relief materials and medical teams. We are really desperate for more foreign expertise to pull through this crisis.”
At the Dharahara tower, Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav told the local rescue team that he would send help.
The situation is worse in remote rural areas. Highways have been blocked by landslides, and many villages and communities are without water and electricity, villagers surviving on salvaged food and with no outside help.
While aid has begun arriving in the capital, including food, medical supplies, tents and dogs trained for rescue efforts, the authorities are struggling to deliver relief further afield.
A crush at the main international airport, where relief material and rescue teams are flying in while thousands of residents are trying to leave, has slowed the flow of aid.
India and China were among the first contributors to an international effort to support Nepal’s stretched resources.
On Monday, the United States announced an additional $9 million in aid for Nepal, bringing total U.S. disaster funding to $10 million.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said two C-17 U.S. Air Force transport planes carrying search-and-rescue personnel and supplies were headed to Nepal. Australia is also sending a C-17 to deliver disaster relief supplies, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, and to start ferrying out some of the more than 1,150 Australians who were in Nepal when the quake struck.
High in the Himalayas, many sherpa mountain guides had descended to their homes and villages to see if loved ones were safe.
Foreign mountaineers, meanwhile, were divided over whether to continue their pursuit of scaling the surrounding peaks if their local guides returned to lead them.
“For me personally it’s probably too early to say how I feel about that,” said Canadian Nick Cienski, who is attempting a record ascent of six 8,000-metre peaks this calendar year.
“I wouldn’t want to continue if it made anybody uncomfortable to continue, sherpas included in that.”