Hundreds of thousands of people in Central Nepal prepared to spend the second night out in the open as serious aftershocks continued to rattle people and forcing them out of their homes.
In Kathmandu, open areas like Tundikhel, Khula Manch, Dasrath Stadium and Maitighar Mandala were packed with families afraid of going home. They used any open spaces available, including school playgrounds, courtyards and bahals of inner city areas. Some people even used traffic islands.
People who had hoped that the aftershocks had begun to taper off were jolted once more on Sunday at 1PM with a 6.5 magnitude earthquake epicentred northeast of Kathmandu which shook places as far away as Patna in India and towns in Bangladesh. Some families who had ventured home decided to stay out one more night in tents.
In Makhan Tole behind the devastated World Heritage Site of Kathmandu Darbar Square, people scared by the aftershock wept as they found out that there was nowhere they could spend the night.
“In our locality, people are frightened as their houses are old and already weakened by yesterday’s earthquake,” said Sanu Maharjan, a volunteer mobilised by Makhan Youth Club, before rushing out to pull bodies from under the debris of a house that collapsed on Sunday’s quake.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala returned to Kathmandu on Sunday from Jakarta where he had gone for a conference and immediately convened a Cabinet meeting which warned people not to follow rumours but to be prepared for aftershocks.
Sunday’s aftershock razed houses that were damaged on Saturday’s quake and even killed some people in districts surrounding Kathmandu. The official death toll is now nearing 2,000 and is expected to go higher as reports come in from outlying areas of Central Nepal.
At Kathmandu’s Bir Hospital the corridors are littered with unidentified bodies, and the police was handing over identified ones to next-of-kin.
Hospital Director, Swoyam Prakash Pandit, said as of Sunday afternoon, 99 people, including one Chinese and two Indian, had died after being brought there. Some 450 more wounded people have been admitted, and Pandit expected more as people trapped under rubble are rescued.
Thousands of army, armed police and Nepali police personnel have been deployed to rescue earthquake victims. But they are incapable of removing debris in narrow alleys of Kathmandu.
On Sunday, near Asan chowk, a team of policemen was unable to remove debris because they had no digging equipment. “We know many are trapped inside but we don’t know how to pull them out,” said a police inspector. “It can be done only by our disaster rescue teams but they are too few to reach everywhere.”
In the Patan Darbar Square which has also been devastated by the earthquake, families sat calmly in shelters inside schools and open spaces. Community organizer, Dilendra Raj Shrestha told us there was no presence of government, not even officials from the municipality who had visited.
“We urgently need tents and medicines,” he said, recalling the hardships of Saturday night when about 400 people slept in the open and were drenched by a shower at 1AM. Fortunately the a400-year-old stone spout in the square outside provides water, and the community raises money to cook two meals a day.
He said: “Please tell the world. We need help.”
Om Astha Rai