17 Mt Everest climbers killed in avalanche; massive rescue operations on; IAF evacuates 550 Indians

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Kathmandu/New Delhi, April 26

Rescuers today dug with bare hands and heavy equipment through tonnes of rubble for survivors as toll from the devastating temblor crossed the 2,000-mark in Nepal’s worst quake in over 80 years, with fresh aftershocks triggering panic and hampering relief efforts. A strong 6.7-magnitude aftershock sent people running for open spaces as they struggled with the devastation caused by yesterday’s massive 7.9-magnitude temblor that displaced and injured thousands besides causing a deadly avalanche on the Mount Everest claiming 17 lives. “The latest figure says more than 2,000 people have died and several thousands have been wounded and more counts are coming,” said Narayan Khatkar, Nepal’s Urban Development Minister. A police official told media here that 2,123 people were killed. Over 5,000 people were also injured in the earthquake and the dozen aftershocks that continued till today, with the strongest measuring 6.7 on the Richter Scale. Climbers on Mount Everest said they saw fresh series of avalanches and a big landslide in the base camp. International teams, including from India, have touched down quake-hit Nepal that has declared a state of emergency in the wake of the disaster caused, the worst in over 80 years of Nepal’s recorded history. Rescuers have been hunting for survivors under heaps of debris with bare hands as well as heavy equipment though the efforts have been hampered due to fresh tremors and thunderstorms. Locals and tourists sifted through mounds of debris for survivors. Cheers rose when people were found alive, thought mostly bodies were pulled out. The earthquake and the aftershocks left behind a trail of death and destruction, flattening houses and buildings, including the iconic Dharhara tower and the landmark Darbar Square in the heart of the capital, trapping scores of people. Thousands of people spent last night in the open in chilly weather, anticipating more aftershocks. 1,053 people are reported killed in the Kathmandu Valley alone. Officials fear the death toll could rise as desperate search for survivors continued. According to initial reports related to today’s aftershock, a tunnel caved in at the Trishuli Hydel Project and around 60 labourers are feared trapped. MI-17 helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) have carried out five casualty evacuation sorties and the injured have been moved to military hospitals. 17 Mt Everest climbers killed in avalanche At least 17 bodies have been recovered at the base camp on Mount Everest, where hundreds of climbers, including many foreigners, are stranded after an avalanche triggered by Nepal’s massive earthquake slammed into part of the camp on the world’s highest peak. More than 60 climbers were injured and hundreds of foreign adventurers, hikers and guides at the base camp were feared missing when the avalanche swept down the Everest and buried under snow a section of the mountaineering camp yesterday. Twenty-two of the most seriously injured climbers were today ferried by helicopters, including from the Indian Air Force, to Pheriche village, the nearest medical facility, though bad weather is hampering rescue and relief operations. There were more than 100 climbers also at camps 1 and 2 on Mount Everest, above the base camp, and all are reported safe, Nepal Mountaineering Association officials said today, adding it will take time before these people can be evacuated. A mountaineering team of Indian Army who were hiking on Everest were also safe, an Indian Army spokesman said. One Chinese climber was among the dead, while tech-firm Google today reported the death of one of its California-based executive, Dan Fredinburg, in the avalanche on Everest. Tourism Ministry officials estimated that at least 1,000 climbers, including about 400 foreigners, had been at the base camp, when Nepal’s worst earthquake in 80 years yesterday noon triggered the avalanche on Everest. The quake also shook neighbouring India and China. The avalanche began on Mount Kumori, a 7,000-meter-high mountain just a few miles from Everest, and gained strength as it headed downwards towards the base camp, flattening at least 30 tents. An avalanche in April last year just above the base camp of Everest had killed 16 Sherpa guides. Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak at 8,848 metre, is scaled by hundreds of climbers every year. The peak was first conquered by New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Two Indians, including the daughter of an Indian Embassy employee, were among those killed in the earthquake, an Indian Embassy official said. A house in the Indian Embassy complex collapsed, killing the daughter of a CPWD employee. Death of another Indian was reported at Bir Hospital here. Indian Embassy spokesperson Abhay Kumar said the embassy has set up two helplines +977 98511 07021, +977 98511 35141. Fifty doctors have arrived from India to provide emergency services.IAF evacuates 550 Indians

Nearly 550 Indians have been evacuated by the IAF from the earthquake-hit Nepal even as India stepped up its relief and rescue mission with 10 flights and 12 helicopters scheduled to carry specialists and equipment to Kathmandu today. China too joined the humanitarian effort today, sending a 62-member search and rescue team to help Nepal. The earthquake hit around 11:56 am with epicentre at Lamjung, around 80 km northwest of Kathmandu, had its impact in several cities of Bihar, West Bengal and UP, and tremors were felt across vast stretches of east and northeast India. It was also felt in Southern and Western parts of India, China, Bhutan and as far as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Several buildings, most of them old, in the densely-populated Kathmandu Valley collapsed, killing hundreds. Over 200 bodies have been retrieved from the debris of two-century old nine-storey landmark Dharhara Tower in the centre of the Capital. Kathmandu’s Darbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was completely damaged in the quake, which was the worst to hit Nepal and surrounding regions after the earthquake of 8.4-magnitude which occurred along the Nepal-Bihar border in 1934. Two aftershocks felt in India, Nepal Two tremors measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale shook parts of India and Nepal late last night and early today but the Indian government gave an assurance that there was no cause for panic as these were aftershocks. The first quake hit around 2313 hours (IST). It had a magnitude of 5.6, a Home Ministry spokesperson said. The second quake struck at around 0446 hours. It also had a magnitude of 5.6. There is no report of casualty following these two tremors. “There should not be any panic as such aftershocks are normal after a major earthquake,” the spokesperson said. Meanwhile, the National Crisis Management Centre, headed by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, is meeting today to take stock of the rescue and relief operations. Top officials of the Prime Minister’s Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Ministries of Home, Defence, External Affairs and others will attend the meeting. Over 50 persons were killed and 237 injured in various parts of India in the powerful quake, which destroyed or damaged several houses and buildings. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, bordering Nepal, were the worst-hit parts of India in the quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale. Meanwhile, National carrier Air India resumed its flights to Nepal with two services — one each from Delhi and Kolkata — leaving for Kathmandu early this morning. Both the flights left around 7:30 am with 118 and 45 passengers on board each plane, an Air India spokesperson said. Air India operates three services to Kathmandu, including two daily services from the National Capital. The Kolkata-Kathmandu-Kolkata flight is, however, operated four times a week. Air India would also fly one additional flight, each from New Delhi and Kolkata, with relief material along with the scheduled flights, the spokesperson said. These services are being operated to accommodate the passengers of the two scheduled flights, which were cancelled yesterday after Tribhuvan International Airport was closed for few hours due to the devastating earthquake, later in the day. Of the three regular services, Air India had operated only one flight yesterday, which had departed much before the massive earthquake had hit the land-locked country. Besides Air India, other domestic carriers had also cancelled their services to Kathmandu. All these carriers are also expected to resume their flights to Kathmandu today. Domestic airlines flying to Nepal have also decided to waive all cancellation, date change or refund charges for Kathmandu flights up to a week. Besides Air India, private carriers Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet also fly to Kathmandu. Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry today said all air relief operations to Kathmandu have been kept on hold till 1600 hours due to fresh tremors.— PTI

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