Bruised and scarred by back-to-back temblors over the weekend, Kathmandu now refuses to go indoors. Every open space in the city has been taken over, people rigging tents with plastic sheets, bedsheets, canvas to crawl in and spend the night.
Some have taken shelter inside sewage pipes by the roadside, paying no heed to warnings of more rain and drop in temperature. And, as if confirming their fears, Kathmandu was again jolted by a powerful aftershock late Monday night, sending people screaming on to the streets.
From the grounds of Narayanhiti to the greens of the Constituent Assembly building, from Tundikhel to the lawns of the Tribhuvan University campus, all have been taken over by men, women and children in hundreds. Too fearful, too shaken to go home.
Even President Ram Baran Yadav and his men spent the night in a tent over the weekend after cracks developed in the Sheetal Niwas.
For one of the world’s poorest countries, limping to a semblance of order despite the political uncertainty and a decade of Maoist insurgency, the 7.9 and 6.7 knocks on successive days have dealt a severe blow, inflicting great pain and suffering. In the Valley and beyond, they are counting their dead — the toll has gone past 3,700 and is expected to rise sharply once rescue workers reach newer areas.
In many parts of Kathmandu, there is no electricity or water. Uncertain supplies are stoking fears of fuel shortage and rising food prices. Most shops have not opened after the first earthquake on Saturday. Roads leading out of the city are packed with cars, buses and trucks carrying people to what they call safer areas. One government official said an estimated 40,000 have fled the city since Saturday.
But there are many who are in no shape to leave. At the trauma centre, doctors are waging a desperate battle. An exhausted doctor said he had tended to seven times the number he usually does in a day. Many with broken limbs are at the adjoining Bir Hospital, the city’s largest, which alone has had 100 dead and more than 400 injured. Doctors and nurses are working round the clock, calming patients and their kin.
One of the doctors pointed out that most of the dead and injured were from the poorer neighbourhoods of Kathmandu. That was where the Saturday quake toppled decrepit buildings, burying people and cars in the narrow lanes. The Sunday temblor didn’t spare the tony suburbs, and cracks run deep inside upscale apartments and luxury hotels. In fact, most hotels are not letting out rooms saying they can’t be held responsible for any loss of life.
As it struggles to come to terms with nature’s fury, the city is also witnessing another, desperate side of its inhabitants. Dharma Raj Poudel, who lives in Kasunti, lost his younger sister on Friday, a day before the first quake. She died of a heart disease. Her body was kept in the morgue. On Sunday, the van that was to transport her body to the cremation site was commandeered by another group, perhaps in greater need.
“I had seen such scenes only in Hindi movies. I never thought I would see it in real life,” Poudel said. The van gone, Poudel returned home to bring out his car and carry his sister to Aryaghat. On the banks of the Bagmati, it is the most preferred cremation site in all of Nepal, considered the stairway to heaven.
There too, an extraordinary sight awaited him. There was a long queue of bodies awaiting last rites — so far 335 quake victims have been consigned to the flames at Aryaghat since Saturday, testing resources and the administrative skills of the Pashupatinath Development Authority.
“I saw relatives of the dead snatching pyre wood from the share allotted to others. It was more painful than the death of my sister,” Poudel said. And then asked, “Just where are we headed?”
That’s also something many in Kathmandu are asking.
National helpline launched, says National Disaster Management Authority member secretary R K Jain
people brought back, including 30 foreign nationals; 2,091 of the 5,400 brought back on Indian Air Force aircraft, says foreign secretary S Jaishankar
Killed in Bihar, out of 72 in India, besides 12 in UP, 3 in West Bengal and 1 in Rajasthan, says Home Secretary L C Goya. 300 people injured in India including 175 in Bihar, 70 in Uttar Pradesh and 35 in West Bengal. 4 NDRF teams in Bihar, 1 in Uttar Pradesh
C-17 Globemasters, 3 C-130J Super Hercules, 3 IL-76
and 2 AN-32 aircraft in service, says Defence Secretary R K Mathur; 2 light MI 17 helicopters and 2 Advanced Light helicopters deployed near Pokhra; 6 choppers on standby
Separate teams of Power Grid Corporation and Indian Oil Corporation have reached Nepal to help restore power and fuel supply. 22 tonnes food packets and dry rations, 50 tonnes mineral water, two tonnes medicines sent, besides 40 tents and 1,400 blankets
Buses, 21 trucks with relief going to Nepal. Railways to add additional bogies at Gorakhpur and Raxaul to facilitate movement of people coming from Nepal